By Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor, and David Karas, Correspondent
The gift of presence and hospitality shown daily by pastoral care workers to those they serve was reciprocated in a special way Oct. 25 when the Diocese hosted a Chaplains’ Appreciation Luncheon in the Chancery.
The annual event was part of the diocesan observance of National Pastoral Care Week, which took place Oct. 21-27. With the theme, “Hospitality: Cultivating Time,” this year’s special week “gives opportunities for organizations and institutions of all kinds and types to recognize the spiritual caregivers in their midst and the ministry which the caregivers provide,” according to the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
“These wonderful chaplains bring the love and peace of God as a sign of hope to those they visit, but always come away feeling so blessed, as they truly recognize that they encounter God in each of the persons to whom they minister,” said Deanna Sass, director of the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, which coordinated the lunch.
A highlight of the event was a personal visit from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who greeted each of the chaplains and thanked them individually for their service.
The gathering was a time to “honor the men and women who serve suffering humanity, in some of the most difficult moments in their lives,’ said Sass, who noted that the chaplains represented area hospitals, the Elder Day Care program and LIFE St. Francis in Bordentown, the New Jersey State Prison, Anne Klein Forensic Center and One Street Minister.
Sass acknowledged that the chaplains’ work can be challenging, especially since they minister in institutions where people are ill or dying, incarcerated, where children are facing terminal illnesses, and where persons with mental illness, including some who have criminal records, are cared for.
Bishop O’Connell joined Sass in recognizing the extraordinary work of Dominican Sister Elizabeth Gnam for her 30 years of service in the New Jersey State Prison, which is the oldest functioning maximum security federal prison in the United States.
“Not a lot of people sign on to go into these painful, difficult places filled with much sadness, despair, fear and loneliness,” Sass said. “But the chaplains will tell you, that in these places, they find courage, faith, resilience, patience, strength and hope, in ways that inspire them! They all agree they get much more from serving in these ministries than they give.”
Sass underscored the unique opportunity afforded to the 15 chaplains attending the luncheon. She explained, “They are with others who share their commitment to serving the suffering, who share their sense of hope, which comes with a belief in someone bigger than themselves, who loves and cares for all human beings, by whichever name they may call God.
“It is a great time of fellowship among like-minded people from every different faith tradition, and various racial, cultural and ethnic communities,” she continued. “There is a deeply felt sense of unity among the chaplains, because they all share a common bond and speak the same language.
For more information about volunteering in hospitals or jails and prisons, contact Sass at 608-403-7157.