Camillus ministers bring hope to families whose children are hospitalized
After Thursday morning Mass, Diane Moseley fills a pyx with consecrated hosts and makes the short drive to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
There, she spends hours giving Communion, listening and praying with Catholic families whose children are hospitalized.
Attending Mass before visiting these families “gives me a faith-filled grounding and I can be calm,” Moseley said. She asks the Holy Spirit for help to say the right things and to be prayerfully present to families.
Moseley is one of 10 lay ministers for the Camillus Group at St. Bridget Parish, located less than a half-mile from Seattle Children’s, where their ministry is focused. The group is named after St. Camillus de Lellis (1550–1614), the patron saint of nurses, hospitals and the sick.
Their work makes a difference to families during difficult times, according to Rev. Heidi Greider, a Presbyterian minister who is one of several chaplains at Seattle Children’s.
“It’s very comforting to families to have Communion offered to them,” she said. “There’s something very powerful about creating a sacred space with someone.”
While the Camillus Group ministers are compassionate listeners and make a connection with patients and families through faith, they aren’t chaplains, said Joyce “Jake” Jacobs, a former Seattle Children’s nurse who has volunteered with Camillus for more than 20 years and serves as the group’s coordinator.
“Our real goal is to give them Christ in the Eucharist,” she said.
Chaplains have a higher degree of formal education, training and experience related to pastoral care ministry, explained Joe Cotton, the archdiocese’s pastoral care director. Through the archdiocese’s Catholic Hospital and Healthcare Ministry, each regional deanery of parishes can “respond uniquely to the respective needs of its region,” he said.
“Some deaneries employ chaplains, while others develop elaborate volunteer networks,” Cotton said. “Volunteers are always needed to bring Eucharist to patients and provide a listening ear, exactly like the volunteers with Camillus ministry.”
Camillus Group ministers Diane Moseley, left, Joyce ‘Jake’ Jacobs and Alicia Lanzner. Photo: Stephen Brashear
When Moseley arrives at Seattle Children’s, she checks in at the spiritual care department and gets a list of Catholic patients. On a recent Friday, 31 Catholics were receiving care at the hospital.
Moseley notes which families speak Spanish (her first language), then fills a crossbody purse with rosaries, pamphlets and holy cards, all provided by the hospital with the help of donor funds.
Next, Moseley goes off to visit families in their children’s rooms, heading first to the hospital’s top floors to see cancer patients. She knocks on the door, asks permission to enter and introduces herself as a Catholic lay minister. She offers to say the Our Father with the family, praying for the health of the child.
Sometimes “just sitting there in silence is very important to the family,” Moseley said. When they want to talk, “I just listen to what they say,” she said, noting they often have no one else to talk with. She incorporates their discussion into a prayer and gives Communion, usually to the parents, and asks if they would like to offer their own prayers.
“Many times, I’ve heard the most heartwarming extemporaneous prayers — it’s been humbling,” said Moseley, a member of Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Parish who has been a Camillus volunteer since 2016.
If there is no parent present when she arrives, Moseley tapes a holy card to the door and goes on to the next patient.
Working as a Camillus minister has strengthened her faith, Moseley said. “It has brought me closer to the Gospel. Now it has more meaning to me.” As she meets families, she holds on to her belief that God always heals. “God has a plan, and we are all going to be called home sometime,” she said.
‘This could be at every hospital’
The roots of the ministry at St. Bridget’s go back to the 1980s. Originally, one parishioner brought Communion to Seattle Children’s and the pastor suggested expanding the program, said Deacon Denny Duffell, who started the group before his ordination in 1989.
Today, at least one Camillus minister visits each weekday (Mass is celebrated on Wednesdays). On the weekends, when more family members arrive to support hospitalized children, two Camillus ministers visit each day. The goal is to visit every Catholic family, both English- and Spanish-speaking, Jacobs explained.
Camillus is the only volunteer group in the hospital’s spiritual care department that serves Catholic families, Rev. Greider said.
Camillus ministers must commit to volunteering for at least two years, Jacobs said. Before they could begin, Moseley and other members of the group had to complete several months of training for lay pastoral care ministers. The training focused on listening skills, appropriate boundaries and understanding their role, according to St. Bridget’s pastor, Father William Heric, who helped develop the training years ago when he was assigned to hospital ministry in Seattle.
“I think the faith of the church can be represented and embodied by laypeople,” Father Heric said.
Seattle Children’s provides further training after approving a volunteer’s application. The training covers hospital protocols, infection controls, privacy regulations and other topics, Moseley said. The last step before visiting families on her own was shadowing another Camillus volunteer for a couple of months.
Deacon Duffell, now assigned to Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Seattle, was a chaplain at Seattle Children’s for 34 years. He said he would like to see the Camillus ministry expand far beyond Seattle.
“This is replicable. This could be at every hospital, especially children’s hospitals, in the country,” he said. “It’s a winner.”
Camillus minister Joyce ‘Jake’ Jacobs prays with a mother whose child is receiving care at Seattle Children’s. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Helping families feel hope
It was Deacon Duffell who invited Alicia Lanzner to join the ministry in 2012.
“I knew there [were] a lot of Hispanic families who needed help,” said Lanzner, who visits Spanish-speaking families after Sunday Mass at St. Bridget. Before starting her visits, “I usually say a prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me,” she said.
Lanzner said her encounters with parents are often the only times they speak with an adult in their native language. She talks with them about their week, gives Communion to family members who are old enough and blesses the younger ones with holy water provided by the hospital.
“It is very fulfilling volunteer work,” Lanzner said. “You can see a family appreciate what you’re doing for them, just with a prayer.”
Sunday used to be her “lazy day,” Lanzner said, and sometimes she still has trouble getting going on Sundays. But that changes when she arrives at the hospital to visit families.
“You feel you’re doing something good with them,” Lanzner said. “You help them feel some kind of hope.”
Northwest Catholic - November 2019