The Ministry of Hospital Chaplaincy
Sister Mary Carmen MacLean, left, brings a rich and varied experience to her role in hospital chaplaincy. After nursing for 18 years, she enrolled in the Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education program for chaplains and others involved in pastoral care. A Specialist in Institutional Ministry, she has been in hospital chaplaincy since 1983, currently at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto. Sister Mary Carmen took some time to answer questions about her ministry.
"Do I miss nursing? Yes, to a certain extent. I miss the personal contact and the opportunity to help others maintain wellness. What I don't miss is all the technology that nurses have to contend with today."
Sr. Mary Carmen explained that most ministry means, "to serve the neighbour." Which ministry a particular CSJ Sister takes on is determined first by the need, then by her own gifts and by the Community's ability to support her in that ministry. The original choice of nursing was easy for Sister Mary Carmen; "I entered the Community a few months after graduating as a nurse from St. Joseph's Hospital." Her time of nursing training allowed her to become familiar with both the Sisters and the ministries which lay open to them. The later change from nursing to pastoral care seemed a natural progression.
She explained that the chaplaincy team at St. Joseph's is made up of five persons: a Roman Catholic priest, a United Church minister, two Catholic laymen and Sister Mary Carmen. The Imam from a nearby mosque will come whenever needed. Each chaplain is assigned a specific area, first to visit anyone who has requested a visit, then on to anyone who might benefit from a visit. When asked whether anyone was surprised when the "chaplain" turns out to be a woman, Sr. Mary Carmen replied that a few were — usually older Catholics.
She went on to describe her process. "I go to the emergency room every morning and visit the people who are there. First I introduce myself and tell the patient that I work for the hospital and that emergency is one of the areas I cover. I wish them well, and move on. Some days I receive two or three calls from the emergency division."
"While I set out to minister to people every day, I often find myself being ministered to by these same people," she said speaking about the effect of her ministry on others and on herself. "When it comes to the end of the day, I ask myself, 'Where did I meet God today?' And then I discover that I met God in a man who was sick, alone and afraid. He was so grateful when I sat by his bedside, asked him how he was feeling and listened to his story, a story unique yet familiar."
And is it worthwhile? "I sincerely believe that 99% of the people I visit in the hospital are most grateful. Some even ask me to continue visiting them in their homes. I respond, 'You know, it is really God's presence in our midst.' One man said to me, 'Thanks so much for caring.'"
Everyone in ministry needs support and is grateful for it. "I am supported by prayer, my community, my family, the staff with whom I work and, last but not least, my friends both in and out of Community."
By Mary Buckley CSJ
Photo supplied by Mary Carmen MacLean CSJ