Kentucky priest captures tales of dying, devotes himself to making sure “no one dies alone”

A remarkable ministry, with a remarkable story behind it, as reported by USA TODAY: 

It wasn’t just one thing that led the Rev. Paul Scaglione to devote so much of his ministry to the terminally and the chronically ill over his 40 years as a Roman Catholic priest.

There was his own near-fatal diabetic coma four decades ago. There was the unexplained paralysis of his mother, for whom he cared for many years. There was his confrontation with a deep betrayal he suffered when abused as a child by a priest.

And then there were the visits to the sick and dying, many of them isolated — and often estranged — from any loved ones. He became determined that “no one should die alone and forgotten.”

“Dealing with dying, that’s hands-on for me. It’s real. It’s not theoretical,” said Scaglione, pastor of St. Barnabas Church in Louisville, and co-author of the new book The Spiritual Lives of Dying People: Testimonies of Hope and Courage.

The book relates the deaths of 15 people, including his brother’s. Some were surrounded by loved ones, while others were seeking spiritual answers or peace over broken relationships. Some told of suffering for years from abuse or shame.

Scaglione, 66, is a gifted preacher and storyteller, with the clipped accent of his upbringing in a close-knit Italian-American Catholic community in New Jersey.

But he spends a lot of time just listening.

“When people tell their story and it’s painful — and they’re unloading really heavy emotional issues, fractured families, disappointments in life — they need to say it to someone who will listen to it and not dismiss it,” Scaglione said, adding that the dying often have no patience for conventional pious words or counsel.

The idea for the book came from the Rev. John Mulder, a Presbyterian minister and author who had come to Scaglione for spiritual counsel and eventually became a friend. Scaglione initially demurred, saying he lacked the energy and patience to write a book, so Mulder suggested that he interview Scaglione and shape his words into written form.

The result is The Spiritual Lives of Dying People, published by Cascade Books(2013), with Mulder as co-author.

The process was “very, very draining,” Scaglione said. “There were some sessions when I was totally wiped out.”

Read it all. 

Browse Our Archives