Hospital stays can be stressful, frightening, sad ordeals for patients and their loved ones. At those moments, a visit from a hospital chaplain — with a prayer, a compassionate ear, a quiet presence — can be a huge help.

   At SUNY Upstate Medical University, the Clinical Pastoral Education program forms chaplains and spiritual caregivers of all faiths — including clergy, religious, seminarians and laypeople of the diocese — in the art and ministry of clinical pastoral care.

• Upstate’s CPE program is approaching its 10th year of accreditation
• It is one of about 300 centers in the world accredited through the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.
• Catholic participants to date include
10 seminarians, 6 priests, 3 religious,
3 laypeople, and 1 deacon.

   There is a great need for trained chaplains, according to Rev. Terry Culbertson, Upstate’s Department of Spiritual Care manager and supervisor of the CPE program. Not only does research point to the positive influence spirituality and spiritual practice can have on an individual’s healing process, but the patients themselves are calling for spiritual care.
“We don’t just want to be treated for our bodies,” Rev. Culbertson said, “but as whole persons.”
Pastoral care is not just visiting a patient in a bed, however, nor is it knowing the perfect thing to say or being able to provide some kind of “help” or “fix.” Rather, it’s about being with people, Rev. Culbertson said.
“It’s a really hard thing to have empty hands and an open heart, to be vulnerable and approach pain,” she said. “There’s so much pain here — in every single bed and story. Our job is to go toward that.”
Rev. Culbertson describes Upstate’s CPE program as “experiential theological education”; more simply, it is “the practice of ministry and reflection on that practice,” she said.
In each of two sessions each year, six students, called interns, embark on the accredited CPE program. Each unit of CPE comprises 400 hours: 300 clinical, 100 instructional.
The clinical hours are direct ministry on an assigned unit of the hospital and in the emergency department; this arrangement allows interns to become familiar with a particular clinical area and the related spiritual issues, Rev. Culbertson noted. The interns minister to every patient on the unit, regardless of faith tradition.
The instructional hours include supervision, presentations, reflections and peer review. Interns role-play patient interactions, learn about one another’s faith traditions and learn much about themselves along the way. Self-reflection is key because “everything that we’ve gone through in our lives is part of the fabric of what we use in ministry — or it uses us,” Rev. Culbertson said.
This summer’s CPE interns include four Catholics: Syracuse seminarian Matthew Rawson; Rochester seminarian Victor Sanchez; Father Richard Marusu of Tanzania; and Thomas Anderson, a parishioner of St. Lucy’s Church.
Though seminary formation does provide a taste of hospital ministry, it’s “nothing like this,” said Rawson, a native of St. James Church in Syracuse. “You get to be with the patients a lot more [here]…. You get to really establish a relationship with them, over their stay and over your 12 weeks with them. For me, it’s a rewarding process, being able to be with them at this time and to establish that relationship with them.”
“Here we get to really put into practice what we learn in the seminary,” he added.
Sanchez said working in a hospital is a completely new experience for him, “like a different culture in the culture,” but one that will help him in his future pastoral duties. “We need to take care of all stages of life — it’s very important to our ministry,” he said.
Father Marusu, residing at St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse during his studies, has found his ministry profoundly affected by his experience in the program.
“I used to go and see the patients,” he said. “Here, I’m not going to see the patients, but I’m going to be with the patients — something which is quite different.” Whereas before he would visit and anoint, “now I really find myself taken by their sufferings and we suffer together. I find myself having joy with them even in their suffering,” Father Marusu said.
Anderson, retired from National Grid and now following a call to spiritual care ministry, concurred. “The journey with someone else is just a profound place to be,” he said. “It’s not just the patient and family and ourselves making the journey with them; the Lord is there. And to share in that experience is unbelievable.”
Deacon Dare Dutter, diocesan chaplain at Upstate and a CPE veteran, is approaching his third year of ministry at the hospital. “I can’t say enough about the [CPE] process,” he said. “You do learn about yourself, you do learn about Christ, you do learn about suffering — and how to share that suffering. It’s not easy. But it’s a blessing to come and do this each day.”
For more information about the CPE program at Upstate, visit

CPE has been a long-standing component of the seminarian formation program in the Diocese of Syracuse and nearly all of the diocese’s seminarians begin their pastoral year with a unit of CPE, according to Father Thomas Servatius, diocesan director of Seminarian Formation.
Why is the program an important component of formation?
“For starters, I hope that all of our seminarians use the program to take a deeper look at how they engage another individual in a pastoral encounter,” Father Servatius told the Sun via email. “It affords them the important opportunity to more closely examine how they encounter someone, what they’re thinking and feeling during the encounter, what they say to the other person, and (very important) why they say it. A closer examination of these issues can tell the seminarians a lot about themselves. It also tells them what some of their growth edges might be during the ensuing pastoral year, during the remaining years of seminary, and for their entire lives. In addition, the program helps a seminarian move from classroom to encounter, from learned theology to applied theology, ‘from head to heart.’
“On top of that, we have to remember that most participants in a CPE program are not Catholic seminarians. Participants come [from] a variety of Christian and non-Christian traditions. In conversations with people of other traditions, not only do seminarians learn more about those traditions, but they are called to more closely examine (and gain a greater appreciation for) their own tradition. In the process, they typically become better adept in speaking for their own tradition.
Finally, “the seminarian is given the opportunity to work within a terrific pastoral care department within the diocese, and to get to know their way around a major hospital in the diocese. Plus, they’re living in a rectory in the diocese, getting to know the other residents of that rectory. Thus, the seminarian is given a number of opportunities to develop new and positive peer relationships within the diocese. This is extremely important, especially in the early years after ordination.”

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