Texas Medical Center (TMC)
The story of the CCC begins many years ago with the emergence of the Texas Medical Center (TMC). This backward glance is necessary because it is important to understand the context from which the CCC developed.
Initial planning for a world-class medical complex in Houston took shape in the early 1940s as community leaders and philanthropists began to dream of a “City of Medicine.” After a few years of national research into leading medical centers and extensive negotiation with state academic institutions, the Texas Medical Center was chartered in 1945 by the state of Texas as a non-profit corporation. As public support increased and the vision was embraced, the major TMC hospitals began their construction projects in the early 1950s. The momentum continued with ground-breaking surgical and clinical innovations and TMC hospitals attracted more and more patients regionally, nationally, and even internationally.
A core value of the TMC’s vision was the integration of religious faith into its healthcare service. Reflective of that commitment, “The Institute of Religion” was established and originally located in the geographical heart of the TMC. In addition, hospitals established chaplaincy departments to help meet the religious needs of patients and families. As one might expect, a significant percentage (20%+) of those hospital patients identified themselves as Catholic. As the number of out-of-town (and state) patients continued to rise, it became increasingly apparent the historic model of a nearby parish priest serving hospital patients was inadequate and a new approach was required.
The Catholic Chaplain Corps (CCC) – late 1960’s
Bishop John Markovsky, Diocese of Galveston-Houston, responded creatively to this challenge. He initiated a new program in 1967, designed to better serve the sacramental and spiritual needs of Catholic patients and families. Bishop Markovsky drew upon the concept of a designated group of Catholic priests whose sole responsibility was ministry to hospital patients and families. To strengthen this approach, this group of priests would live together in community at a location near the TMC. Each priest would be appointed as a temporary pastor to Catholics “residing” in the hospital. In this way, the priest would work collaboratively with the hospital chaplaincy department, receive a census of Catholic patients and provide ministry in coordination with the hospital staff. Reflective of the archdiocese’s investment to the program, financial support was provided through the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).
This community of priests would be given the designation “corps,” signifying their function as a body of colleagues committed to a common ministry. True to a corps spirit, they would support each other in their work and live in a brotherhood community. Striving to give comprehensive service, these priests would provide crisis and non-crisis ministry every hour of the day, every day of the year. This innovative program would eventually be entitled the “Catholic Chaplain Corps,” or the “CCC” for short. While deacons and pastoral visitors (lay volunteers) have subsequently joined the ranks of the CCC, the CCC priests remain the cornerstone of this ministry.
Training for CCC Priests
Given the specialized nature of hospital ministry, these priests were encouraged to participate in professional clinical training to further develop their pastoral skills. This type of training has become invaluable when combined with their expertise in sacramental ministry. By extension, these priests then better serve the patients’ unique emotional and spiritual needs. They can also better serve the patients’ families, as they cope with the hospitalization of their loved one. Another important dimension of their training is increased knowledge about healthcare and, thus, become better able to integrate into the operation of the hospital staff to promote optimum care for Catholic patients.
Deacons and Pastoral Visitors – 1990’s and 21st Century
As the TMC continued its phenomenal growth in the 1990s and 2000s, the Archdiocese deepened its commitment to TMC Catholic patients and families by mobilizing and integrating clinically trained deacons and pastoral visitors into hospital ministry. They were assigned to chaplaincy departments to enhance the scope and depth of Catholic ministry. Their inclusion into the model of priest-centered hospital ministry represented the clear recognition of the rich resources of deacons and laity within the Church to serve hospitalized Catholic sisters and brothers.
The contributions of pastoral visitors deserve special mention. While perhaps undervalued in the past, Vatican II made clear the importance of lay ministry to the mission of the Church. Honoring the mandate of this historic Council, the Archdiocese through the CCC began a program of recruiting and training gifted Catholic women and men to serve in the full range of ministry settings, including hospitals and health-related institutions. These pastoral visitors joined an equally committed group of trained deacons to increase the CCC’s outreach to TMC Catholic patient and families. (For additional information about pastoral visitors, please see the Pastoral Visitors tab.)
Need for Healthcare Ministry Expands
As the end of the first decade of the 21st-century approaches, the statistics for health-related facilities in the Archdiocese continue to soar. For instance, the TMC alone consists of over 11,000 patient beds and employs over 106,000 healthcare professionals and support staff. Moreover, there is a total of 84 hospitals in Harris County. The magnitude of hospital ministry needs becomes even more graphic with the reminder that Harris is only one of 10 counties within the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese. A comprehensive perspective must also include other facilities, such as hospices, rehabilitation units and senior-care establishments. It is difficult to estimate how many identified Catholic women and men currently utilize all these institutions. Hospital census studies, however, reveal that at least 20% of the patients identify themselves as Catholics. This percentage seems quite credible when the Archdiocese population of 1.77 million Catholics is included as background demographic data.
Clearly, providing effective sacramental and pastoral care ministry to this large population is challenging. But the CCC is making significant inroads in meeting the challenge! Emboldened with a major grant, the CCC chartered a bold vision and has made a decisive start. This exciting part of the CCC’s story can be found in the next section: “Dramatic Advance Forward – 2017.”