When Bishop David Zubik announces new clergy assignments next spring as part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! planning initiative, he will ensure support for a ministry not found on a parish campus.
Priest chaplains serve in 41 hospitals and 140 nursing homes across the six counties of the diocese, and at high schools and colleges and in correctional institutions.
“The work of our priests involved in institutional ministry is vital to the life of the Church in our diocese,” auxiliary bishop William Waltersheid said. “Their care for souls in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and prisons brings Christ to people who need to meet Him in the sacraments, prayer, and the loving, supportive presence of the priest.”
Father Doug Boyd is one of 18 priest chaplains providing spiritual care and comfort to those who are in hospitals and nursing homes, and to their families. He offers the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confession and Anointing of the Sick, as well as prayers, spiritual reading and conversation.
“It’s a sacred time together,” Father Boyd said. “Patients talk about their lives, often getting ready for the Lord and eternal life. Some people want to reconcile their life, and hurts from the past.”
Father Bob Norton, who served in hospital ministry for 13 years before becoming pastor of St. Athanasius Parish in West View, continues to make hospital visits.
“It’s a very important ministry because a lot of people feel forgotten by the Church,” Father Norton said. “Most are encouraged that you thought enough of them to visit. It’s uplifting to the patient.”
We often forget the many ways our priests serve our parish communities beyond when we see them at Mass or Confession, said Adam Blai, diocesan director of Institutional Ministries.
“Our priests are asked to take on many responsibilities, walking with us during the important moments of our life, and comforting us at the time of our death,” Blai said.
The blessing of the sick by the ministers of the Church is an ancient custom, according to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, having its origins in the practice of Christ himself and in his apostles. Lay ministers also provide support.
Kathy Klocek, the pastoral health care minister at Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, says no two days are alike.
“One day I’ll visit with patients and their families, providing them with bibles, rosaries and meditations,” Klocek said. “Another day I’ll be working with spiritual care volunteers being trained in active listening, prayer, and identifying spiritual distress.”
Klocek said they also minister to patients who are being invited by God to return to the practice of their faith. “One time I asked a woman why she decided in the hospital to come back to the Church,” Klocek said. “She replied, ‘I had the time to think.’”
Father Boyd urges all Catholics to take seriously this Corporal Work of Mercy.
“Whatever our capacity, the Lord expects us to visit the sick,” Father Boyd said. “It means a lot and touches people in a powerful way.”