Catholic chaplains still bring compassionate, heroic care at healthcare facilities amid pandemic

March 9, 2021

Compassionate Care staff care bags are well received and appreciated at the hospitals/elder care facilities where the Catholic Chaplains Corps is actively engaged in ministry. The ministry continues to make the bags and distributes them weekly at various institutions. (Photo courtesy of the Catholic Chaplains Corps)

HOUSTON — As the hardships of COVID-19 social distancing mandates continue to impact the elderly and sick in healthcare facilities, the Catholic Chaplains Corps (CCC) of the Archdiocese remains resolute in its commitment to provide much-needed sacramental and spiritual ministry to those Catholic sisters and brothers in need.

“Through the ministry of our priests, lay chaplains and pastoral visitors, the CCC stands with Catholic laity to nurture and bolster the faith resiliency of those we serve in hospitals and nursing homes during these perilous times,” said Denice Foose, director of the CCC. “Our priests and lay chaplains and lay volunteers have effectively met these challenges through their adaptive creativity, servanthood identity and compassionate outlook. The gifts of the Church have supreme importance during these days of psychological stress, mental fatigue and spiritual anguish.”

Foose said while the CCC’s eight priests and three lay chaplains have been able to continue providing crisis, urgent and on-going pastoral and sacramental ministry inside hospitals during COVID-19, pastoral visitors were restricted. Instead, these volunteers offered a phone ministry to reach those inside the facilities or recently discharged. They also distributed 8,000 care kits for hospital staff containing snacks, aromatherapy goods, handwritten cards of support and other items to share comfort and encouragement.

As one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund, Foose said without this annual support, it would be extremely challenging for the CCC to provide these services, including a new online training program that has significantly increased the number of volunteers ready to serve once the restrictions are lifted. This includes Sacred Heart Church and School in Conroe that saw an increase in the number of members active in this ministry.

“As Catholics, we are not just parochial, but universal, and our hearts are called to minister to the needs of all within our Archdiocese and beyond,” said Father Philip Wilhite, pastor of Sacred Heart. “DSF is an annual opportunity to love like Jesus with a generous heart, giving so that we can care for more of those in need, including the sick, marriages that are in trouble, encouraging religious vocations and bringing Christ to our brothers and sisters in prison. We must resist any temptation or fear that if we share through DSF, we may not have enough for ourselves — God always provides, so trust and give to DSF.”

Several healthcare facilities that use the CCC’s programs and services expressed support of the high level of care their Catholic patients receive from the priests and lay volunteers.

According to Jim Hogg, director of Chaplaincy Services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, the CCC helped with nearly 3,000 patient/family-initiated requests for Catholic ministers in 2020. He said their spiritual needs were met in a timely manner due to the heroic way the lay chaplain and priest continued to meet COVID patients and families’ needs.

“Over the past year, we also had about 1,500 total deaths in our hospital, many of whom were Roman Catholic and needed the Sacraments,” said Hogg. “I am very happy that our Catholic patients are cared for in such a wonderful way. This hospital is within the Archdiocese, and I very much appreciate the CCC’s commitment to us and the Catholic needs of our patients.”

Stacy L. Auld, director of Spiritual Care and Education at Houston Methodist Hospital, said the patients could not be supported as consistently and effectively without its partnership with the CCC.

“Our lay chaplain helps vet the requests and coordinates the best way to meet the requests so that our priest can focus on supporting patients and families in our ICUs and those at the end of life,” said Auld. “Our department has built good relationships with our pastoral visitors, but knowing they have an additional person supporting them and are attuned to (continued needs) creates a more robust, meaningful and effective program.”

Rev. Brett McCleneghan, manager of Spiritual Care and Education at Houston Methodist Woodlands, said the extensive training provided by the CCC results in the formation of superior pastoral visitors, which offer much-needed spiritual care for Catholic patients.

“The provision of pastoral care to all who are in need in any parish presents numerous challenges; and also, to provide care for parishioners who are hospitalized is an even greater challenge given resources that are already stretched thin,” said Rev. McCleneghan. “The CCC empowers and equips laity to discover and live out their vocations as caregivers, which makes it an essential pastoral ministry.”

Ken Carlson, director of Mission and Spiritual Care at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, said its partnership with the CCC allows the hospital to meet the needs of Catholic patients, their families and staff in many of the sacred moments that occur on a daily basis.

“Our lay chaplain provides a steady bedside presence that brings a sense of peace and calm to many who experience discomfort or fear while in the hospital, which allows the presence of God to be fully experienced,” said Carlson. “The city of Houston and its surrounding communities are blessed to have an organization like the CCC.”