Heartfelt care by Catholic Chaplains brings healing, hope for the sick and suffering

May 14, 2024

Pastoral visitors are trained Catholic lay chaplains that serve as full-time liaisons between the hospital chaplaincy departments, hospital patients, and CCC pastoral visitors and administrative staff. (Photo courtesy of the Catholic Chaplain Corps)

HOUSTON — Whether it’s holding a hand, offering prayers and Sacraments, or simply listening, clergy and lay ministers with the Catholic Chaplain Corps (CCC) embody the compassionate teachings of Jesus Christ as they bring his healing embrace to the infirm, imprisoned, aged and dying.

Through a compassionate presence, they bring hope and comfort, transcending the limitations of medicine and technology and serving as a reminder of the power of human connection and faith in life. 

Father Clark Sample, episcopal vicar for clergy and director of the Secretariat for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services of the Archdiocese, was assigned to oversee the ministry in July 2023. He said the mission of the CCC team is to provide pastoral and sacramental support to patients and their families in the Texas Medical Center and other hospitals in the greater Houston area. 

“The CCC team is the administrative side, the people behind the scenes, who help the ministry work as functionally as possible and are absolutely essential to the ministry of our people in the hospitals,” Father Sample said. “Those in the role of pastoral visitor help bring the presence of Christ to the patients and assist our priests, who are limited in number, to minister most effectively. Trained Catholic lay chaplains serve as full-time liaisons between the hospital chaplaincy departments, hospital patients, and CCC pastoral visitors and administrative staff.” 

Drawing from his background as a parish priest, Father Sample said the CCC fosters a connection between patients and their families with the Church during hospitalization.  
“It’s no small feat to have a unified Catholic presence in many of the hospitals around the city,” said Father Sample. “I understand how important this ministry is for everyone in the Archdiocese, and I am very happy to be involved in it.” 

One of the volunteers contributing to the ministry’s mission is Bridget Caletka, a pastoral visitor at Methodist Hospital in The Woodlands. She is a licensed professional counselor specializing in grief, trauma, mood disorders, anxiety and other mental health issues. Recognizing the calling for Christians to visit the sick, Caletka feels it is important to address the emotional and spiritual needs of individuals and families during times of difficulty. She finds fulfillment in connecting with patients and listening to their unique experiences. 

“It is such an honor to walk into their lives for a moment in time, and to simply be there for them, whether they need to cry or vent, or maybe celebrate good news, or to talk about their faith journey,” Caletka said. “This ministry has such a special place in my heart, and I find that my time volunteering at the hospital with the CCC is often the best part of my week. I personally take so much away from my encounters with the patients.”   

Carmen Qadir, a pastoral visitor with the CCC since 2023, also brings extensive experience to the ministry as a national clinical scientist and healthcare executive coach and consultant. She serves at Texas Children’s in The Woodlands and provides emotional and spiritual support to children of all ages admitted to short or long-term inpatient services. 

“It has been a blessing to have the opportunity to serve these children through Christ,” Qadir said. “I have always been able to provide healing through clinical or scientific efforts, but now having the opportunity to provide spiritual healing and safety is a true privilege and blessing. I firmly believe that the Lord led me to this journey knowing I had a deep understanding of suffering, pain and healing, and he wanted me to make these connections in a different light.” 

Mary McGivern, who was once comforted by a CCC minister during a hospital stay at Methodist Hospital in the Medical Center five years ago, was inspired to volunteer after learning of the need for more pastoral visitors. She has since volunteered weekly at Methodist Hospital for the last 2 1/2 years. 

“The CCC is an answer to God’s calling to visit the sick, which is an invaluable service to those hospitalized,” McGivern said. “Some patients have family present to support them, others do not, but they all need to be listened to and understood and have prayers said for them. I know our mission to provide emotional support and spiritual care is fulfilled when I see the welcoming smiles and earnest appreciation that I receive from those I visit.”   

To support the training of additional ministers and cover increasing operational costs, Father Sample emphasized the crucial role of the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), which supports the CCC and over 60 additional ministries. Increased DSF backing would facilitate the training of more lay chaplains and chaplain priests, enhancing services for the 18 to 24% of Roman Catholics in hospitals in the greater Houston area. 

“As the city of Houston grows and hospital systems expand beyond the Texas Medical Center, I hope that we can expand the CCC around the city,” Father Sample said. “Over the next year, in collaboration with parishes and diocesan ministries, the CCC ministry will continue to offer education and training, yielding many more dedicated laborers for the harvest of compassion and care.” 

Charlotte Toliver, with over 30 years of healthcare experience and recently trained as a lay chaplain at Houston Methodist, emphasizes the critical importance of supporting the DSF to fulfill its mission. She believes her role as a chaplain offers her a profound opportunity to extend a spiritual gift of compassion, embodying the presence of Christ for the ill and suffering.   

“The compassionate person will reach out to a hurting person with God’s love and comfort,” Toliver said. “Being a lay chaplain brings the joy of knowing that someone cares about the person’s feelings. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually — it is a blessing to receive and to give.” 

To learn more about the CCC and how to volunteer, go to www.archgh.org/chaplaincorps. To donate to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s DSF annual appeal, go to www.archgh.org/DSF. The DSF supports the CCC and 63 additional ministries, whether direct service or education, which require this critical funding to remain in operation. Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.