Health care, chaplains — and the story of one deacon’s wife

She’s the widow of a classmate of mine, Jim Hynes, and her story begins this report in the Wall Street Journal about how spiritual care is increasingly a part of health care:

Doctors and nurses were preparing Kathleen Hynes for a stem-cell transplant at Long Island’s North Shore University Hospital last June when she asked them to page another member of the medical team—hospital chaplain Kimberli Lile.

Ms. Hynes, a 53-year old cancer patient, wanted the chaplain to bless the cells before they were administered intravenously.

Hospital chaplains have long been a source of comfort and succor for patients facing daunting illness.

Chaplains are seeking bigger roles in hospitals and in some cases joining the medical-care team, as new research shows positive spiritual guidance and discussion can help improve a patient’s medical outcome.

Some hospitals are giving patients questionnaires upon admittance to identify who may benefit most from chaplain referrals.

Chaplains, of course, may still pray with patients regardless of denomination, help families make difficult end-of-life decisions or simply offer a sympathetic ear.

As interest rises in the links between religion, spirituality and health, there is a new push to establish chaplaincy in the medical mainstream and apply more rigorous scientific research. The Association of Professional Chaplains, which certifies health-care chaplains, issued its first standards for practice in 2009, including the requirement that chaplains document their work in patient medical records and stay abreast of new research.

Medical schools are adding courses on spirituality and health, and training residents to consider patients’ spiritual needs. Some two-thirds of U.S. hospitals provide chaplaincy services; others rely on local clergy and lay volunteers…

…Ms. Hynes, a Catholic, had turned to her faith to help her cope with the 2008 death of her husband and the loss of her teaching job. After she was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare and often aggressive cancer, Rev. Lile helped Ms. Hynes face some of her fears, she recalls. “She gave me a beautiful prayer, and we sat and talked for an hour. She was so receptive and interested in what I was going through.”

The two spoke often during Ms. Hynes’s hospital stay, laughing over the notion that Rev. Lile, trained as a Lutheran minister, would be blessing Catholic holy water that Ms. Hynes’s son brought to the hospital for the stem-cell transplant.

After the transplant, Ms. Hynes wrote to Rev. Lile to express her thanks: “I feel so blessed to have your encouraging influence during this turning point in my life. . . . The beautiful prayer and blessing is a memory I will always carry with me.”

Read the rest.

And before anyone brings it up: no, the stem cells she received were not embryonic stem cells.  They were her own.  And so far, the treatment has been a great success.  Praise God!

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13 responses to “Health care, chaplains — and the story of one deacon’s wife”

  1. You have to have a Masters in Theology, Divinity or other specialty like that to become a chaplain in addition to a Bachelor’s Degree. Further you have to pass a board examination given by some authorized associations. Therefore you have to be a very educated person to be a Chaplain. I guess in a society dominated by specialists and professional organizations that is a good thing.

  2. Rudy, yes, the chaplaincy is a very heavily credentialed position, and that probably is a good thing, overall. But I sometimes wonder if the credentialing process forgets that some of our greatest saints and spiritual consolers were working under the instruction of the Holy Spirit. Adult stem cell reseach, btw, is yielding one great therapy after another. The “promise” of embryonic stem cell research was a lie and a fixation of something very dark.

  3. Elizabeth, you are right in saying that the Holy Spirit is important, and that you do not need the academics to be compassionate and caring, but chaplains are often called upon to help with the difficult decisions and often answer the tough theological questions that come up at difficult times. My husband is a Catholic chaplain working with hospice patients. Chaplains often have to deal with ethical decisions involving end of life decisions for which a theological degree often come in very handy. Also medical insurance and regulatory agencies have stringent requirements that include pastoral care. All of the men and women my husband works with are extremely compassionate and holy people. I don’t think one would get into this ministry, if not first called by the Holy Spirit. To put in another good word for chaplains, they are often more available to Catholic patients than priests are. While they can’t provide the sacraments, they do have the time to sit with patients and families to offer them the pastoral care they so desperately need.

  4. Thanks for the report, manny catholics, christinas don’t know the role of a chaplain, I was a chaplain for 13 at Cabrini Medical center in NYC, and it was a great experience to do that job. It was my parish do that we had a chapel with mass 3-4 times a day, and all kind of activities for patients, tha come come to the chapel and also we had a good volunteer department, We was trained and educated(CPE), so we know what we do, beside Pray, we care for families, friends adn all of those in the hospital, my main expirience was in 1984-5 dealings with aids patient we had the most cases in the NYC area, for many of them we was God at their side…Paryerfully Dcn.Munoz

  5. It seams like there is a great need for more Deacons to “staff” this health care ministry, including hospice. Deacons who would not only minister to the patient, but also to the patient’s family, especially at a hospice.

  6. Of the hundred or so deacons who minister in my diocese, we have probably four who work in Hospice ministry. Of those four, I know that two do have graduate degrees and extensive additional training. I do not work in this ministry but I praise our Risen Lord regularly about the blessing that those folks offer.

  7. Regarding Catholics and the use of the title “chaplain” the Vatican had some interesting responses to the US Bishops – “chaplain” may be only used by an ordained priest (curiously, they said nothing about deacons). Laity are to be called “lay ecclesial health care ministers”. Here is an excerpt from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) and its bishop liason:

    “For many years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the NACC have attempted to resolve a dilemma regarding the title “chaplain.” In the United States, hiring institutions (health care, prison, and other specialized ministries) will only employ “chaplains” for spiritual care services who are board-certified and hold this professional credential. However, Canon Law (Canons 564-572) restricts the title “chaplain” to ordained priests. In 1997, several Congregations of the Holy See issued an Instruction, “On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non- Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests.” This Instruction was given approval by Pope John Paul II and reiterated that it is not permitted for non-ordained faithful to assume the title of “chaplain.”We attempted to gain an exception in the United States but were unsuccessful. ”

    You can read the it in full here:

  8. You are right about the canonical requirements regarding the “chaplain” term. Many will quibble but that’s the way Church law reads. There is a need for education about this, too.

  9. The reason that a deacon cannot be a chaplain under canon law is that deacons are not able to administer all of the sacraments to those under their care as a chaplain. A priest could confirm someone in the case of immanent death, hear confessions, and administer the annointing of the sick. Since deacons are unable to be the ministers of those sacraments, we are unable to be chaplains in the cannonical sense.

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