Faithful Healers

May 6-12, 2004
Faithful Healers
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Hospital Chaplain Ministry Provides Support and Spiritual Care

Hospital chaplains offer strength, support and prayer to patients and families at the most critical times of their lives. Whether joining in the celebration of a new life or providing spiritual aid and comfort at the end of another, hospital chaplains find their work intense, fulfilling and rewarding. The tasks of hospital chaplains are varied and unique. They provide a wide range of services –– from administering the sacraments to visiting with and listening to those who carry unmanageable burdens.

Monica Czechowicz, a chaplain for 23 yeas, has ministered to the patients, families and staff at Crouse Hospital for two and a half years. She spends her days visiting patients, assessing their spiritual needs and coordinating her Eucharistic minister volunteers. Czechowicz explained that there are a lot of teen mothers who come to Crouse to deliver babies and who need her support to help them through a frightening experience. “Many of them are on drugs,” said Czechowicz. “If they are, I try to counsel them and encourage them to change their lifestyle.” Czechowicz said she tries to help them understand the importance of getting off drugs and learning how to care for a child. ”There are a few success stories,” she said. Czechowicz finds her work taxing at times. “But it’s important to know when to break away and talk to your staff or team members in order to let go of your frustrations,” she said. “It’s important to support each other. Then we can go on with our day.” Czechowicz said she usually accompanies the doctors when they have dismal news to relay to a family. “I stay with them after the doctor leaves,” she said. “That’s my role. To be there and pray with them and give them support.”

Czechowicz shared a new and exciting program that was recently developed at Crouse Hospital. Four first-year medical students walked with Czechowicz for two hours to see what a part of her day was like. “They did it for academic credit,” said Czechowicz. “At the end of the two hours, I sat down with them and asked for feedback. They were overwhelmed with what a chaplain does. They couldn’t believe how receptive the patients and families are to chaplain visits,” she said. Father John Drozdzal is the chaplain at St. Lukes-Faxton Hospital in Utica and said his primary role is administering the sacraments to the patients. He explained that hospital work is much more intense than parish work because he is constantly taking care of people who are sick and dying, as well as their families. “You’re not taking care of buildings and maintenance problems in hospital ministry as you would if you were a parish pastor,” said Father Drozdzal.

Father Drozdzal talked about his role of counseling families when a decision has been made to take someone off life support. “Usually our presence means a lot to them,” said Father Drozdzal. “Our praying with them soothes their souls.” While Father Drozdzal sees a lot of sadness in his work as hospital chaplain, he also finds it fulfilling. “Hospital work takes a lot out of you,” he said. “But I enjoy the job. It’s elating. You meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends –– including the staff, doctors and nurses.”

At University Hospital, Father Alfred Bebel has ministered to the patients, family members and staff for more than 18 years. Prior to his ministry at Upstate, Father Bebel was a chaplain at Binghamton General Hospital. He explained that his most important role as chaplain is to answer the request for the emergency needs for a priest. After that, it’s about listening, explained Father Bebel. “I listen to their fears and concerns, their hopes and their hopes realized,” he said. “Often patients come to realize what’s important in their lives. They come back to living their faith after experiencing the fear and pain of illness and injury,” said Father Bebel. Father Bebel works to resonate and share the Catholic faith with others. “The faith is there,” he said, “it just needs to be rekindled.” As Father Bebel shares the faith journey with others, he is humbled by how close many people are to God. He receives a lot from them by just listening. “It helps me appreciate how God reaches into our lives and is present with us at all times,” said Father Bebel. Other aspects of the job Father Bebel finds rewarding are patients who awaken their relationship with God during times of illness. “They wrestle with wanting to pray and wanting to receive the sacraments and question whether or not they are being hypocrites by asking for God’s help now that they are sick,” explained Father Bebel. “I tell them that God finds them where they are and when they are open to hearing His call. When God calls to us during an illness, it can be a real wake-up call,” he said. Father Bebel explained that continuing the faith journey when the patient is healed is the proper response to God’s call. “It might be hypocritical if once they got better, they went away from God and the church again,” he said.

Sister Annellen Kelly, IHM, knows she couldn’t be as effective in her ministry without the help of 25 very dedicated and faithful volunteers who come to visit and administer the Eucharist to the patients at Binghamton General Hospital and Wilson Hospital. “I am also very grateful to the Ladies of Charity who run the Nearly New Shop. They give us many donations to aid those in need,” she said. Sister Annellen also said that the ministry is blessed with the help of the pastors and 21 surrounding parishes that take turns responding to emergencies. “Wilson Hospital is a trauma center,” explained Sister Annellen. “We get called 24-hours-a-day and have to respond no matter what time of day or night it is. When our beepers go off, we call the hospital to determine if there is a need for our services,” she said. In addition to ministering to the physically ill, Sister Annellen said that she spends a lot of time spiritually counseling patients on the psychiatric floors and in the drug and alcohol units. “Those patients can be very time-consuming, especially those who suffer from depression. You have to lend a good listening ear to them,” she said.

Sister Annellen receives many rewards and blessings in her pastoral care work –– the most satisfying is the great expressions of gratitude she receives from the people she serves. “Many times the patients want a religious presence whether or not they are of the Catholic faith. They just want someone there to give them support,” said Sister Annellen. Faxton Hospital in Utica is also blessed with a strong spiritual ministry team. Bonnie Waldron, a volunteer under the guidance of Sister Maureen Denn, CSJ, said she has found that her ministry work has deepened her faith. “Sister Maureen is a tremendous inspiration to me,” said Waldron. “Everyone loves her, whether they are Catholic or not.” Waldron finds the most pleasurable part of her service is ministering to the elderly. “They often have no family members close by, especially if their admittance to the hospital is a sudden thing. They’re scared.” Waldron, who is a retired Hospice nurse, said that to be able to sit with them, listen to their fears and try to reassure them is gratifying. “The nursing staff today is so busy taking care of technical duties,” said Waldron. “This is a very humbling position. I love it.”

The HOPE Appeal funds chaplains at Community General Hospital, Crouse Hospital, University Hospital, Faxton Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, Binghamton General and Wilson Memorial Hospital.

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