Catholic Interviews

Pastoral Care: Serving the Sick, Homebound, and Dying through the Sacraments

Since I work with Trisha Engel, Director of Pastoral Care at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, I omitted certain formalities in the written text of this interview. Below are the questions I asked, followed by her answers.

1. How did you transition from parish receptionist to the Director of Pastoral Care? Do you remember your first conversation with Fr. Will Schmid (former Pastor)?

It was a natural transition, since being at the front desk you are the first one to receive the initial request for sacraments.  So, I was well aware of many of the demographic needs. Initially, Fr. Will asked me to work on putting together a handbook for Pastoral Care for the parish of Saint Mary Magdalene.

My research led me to see that parishes were indeed approaching this very differently. Often, parishes had volunteers that would bring Communion during the week, and a few people who would go out on Sunday. In fact, the feedback that I received when I shared the direction our program was going to take was not always very positive. I was cautioned that it would be difficult to find enough volunteers willing to bring Communion on Sundays to the sick and homebound. Perhaps people would quit, but God would send us more volunteers. From the beginning, God called us to place all our trust in Him.

Once people heard the vision of the program from the pastor, they began to understand how important the connection of this ministry was to the Mass. Where they had been accustomed to taking Communion anytime during the day that was convenient, they began to see how important their attendance was at the Mass.

Initially, we asked people attending the 8:00 AM daily Mass to take Communion to the sick and homebound. After this happened, we were ready to kick off the first training for Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) to the sick and homebound. We began to implement the vision the Church has for this ministry. Volunteers began taking Communion to the sick and homebound immediately following the Sunday Mass that they attended. Father called them up to the front of the church at the end of Mass, they received their pyxes, and a blessing, and they were dismissed to go immediately to the sick.

No longer was this ministry invisible to the larger community, as they saw the EMHC’s being called forth to take Communion to the sick and homebound at the end of Mass.  It made visible the reality of how many of our brothers and sisters are not with us. It made visible the needs of those who are sick and suffering in our parish boundaries.

2. What were your initial thoughts about taking over Pastoral Care at St. Mary Magdalene? Were you fearful or did you trust in God?

I knew that it was by His hand that the program would grow and bear fruit. I had the assurance that Fr. Will fully supported the development of a program to meet the needs of the sick and the homebound as well as the needs of the dying.

It was with a lot of prayer, support from the pastor and the generosity of God’s people that this program is what it is today. We have amazing volunteers that really give their heart to serving the Lord and His people. The reality is that none of this belongs to us, it is the Lord’s ministry.

3. How has the ministry changed from the time you became Director to today?

Initially, we started with a handful of volunteers, and as I looked at our boundaries, I knew that we would need many more to meet the needs of this ministry. Since 2014, we have seen the growth of many large facilities being built in our boundaries. Each facility requires a team to serve that community. Our goal is to visit that facility two times a week. The beautiful thing that I see happening in each of these facilities is the development of a community of faithful Catholics who are able to support one another through the joys and sorrow that this time in life holds.

Our priests also go and celebrate Mass one time a month and make themselves available to hear confessions and administer the Anointing of the Sick to those in need. I cannot thank our priests enough past, and present, for their willingness to go and administer the sacraments to those most in need. Without their support and their generous servant hearts this ministry would not bear fruit as it has.

There are 64 assisted living homes that we could be serving at any given time. This of course depends on whether or not they have Catholics in residence requesting services. There is continued development in this area and we are averaging the addition of one large assisted living/memory care community each year. We also serve individuals in their own homes that may be homebound for a short or long-term basis. Our goal is that we can serve all those in our boundaries who are Catholic and unable to attend Mass. We pray that the Lord will lead us to those who are most in need of His mercy and grace.

4. What is your greatest challenge in the Pastoral Care Ministry?  

Recruitment and training of volunteers. Since the program growth is continuing and the needs of those who are sick and homebound will continue to increase as more and more individuals are no longer able to remain living independently. We attempt to stay ahead of the need, but this is often a delicate balance. We have a holy hour each week and members of the Pastoral Care ministry come and pray for those we are serving and all of our volunteers. The Lord know our needs and He provides.

5. How many volunteers do you have currently?  How does one become a volunteer in the Pastoral Care ministry?

Currently, we have over one hundred volunteers involved in this ministry.

If you are interested in being trained to become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, you need to a Catholic in good standing, and to be a Catholic in full communion with the Church. We offer training twice a year, which is a 6-hour training.  Once you have completed this training and all the prerequisite paperwork, including Safe Environment training, you will be commissioned at a Sunday Mass by the Pastor. Once commissioned, we will start your practicum training: where you go out with a trained mentor, and learn the Communion Rite hands-on in one of our facilities. Once three practicums have been completed, and you are comfortable with the Rite, then you will receive your own assignment.

6. How do you see this ministry answering the call to evangelization?

Evangelization is God’s work, and we often meet fallen away Catholics in our ministry or those who have simply become lukewarm in the practice of our faith. Our hope is that God would use us in this ministry to be that bridge to invite people back into the fullness of their faith.  Often times a serious illness, or a cancer diagnosis is an invitation for an individual to examine his/her relationship with the Lord. I pray that we are but a small sign pointing the way to God’s merciful heart. He desires the conversion of every heart, that we might cry out to Him for mercy.

One of the great blessings of this ministry is helping someone who has been away from Holy Mother Church to come home. Whether it is in helping prepare them for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or advocating for Sacraments prior to death; our volunteers stand in a blessed place. I think often of Our Lord’s words –

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

For more information, you can contact Trisha Engel at trisha@smarymag.org or click on the Pastoral Care tab on the upper right-hand side of St. Mary Magdalene Parish website.

To learn more the Catholic Church’s vision for Pastoral Care, I suggest reading the document, Pastoral Care of the Sick – Rites of Anointing and Viaticum. To purchase the hard copy of this document, visit this site.

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