As a pastoral associate for 21 years Sister Rosemary (M. Jean Therese) Goubeaux had many opportunities to visit ill parishioners who were in the hospital or recovering at home.
Ministering to the sick was a release from office and administrative stress. It also prepared her well for what became a new ministry as a full-time chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton.
Sister Rosemary retired from Good Samaritan last year after 15 years, but she still volunteers there two days a week ministering to cancer patients at the hospital’s outpatient unit or offering Communion to those in the main facility.
“I enjoy this so much. It’s so enriching,” Sister Rosemary said. “I always try to see each person as the face of Jesus and I trust they can hopefully recognize that in me, too.”
She brings a calming presence. With a quiet voice and broad smile, she greets patients, doctors and staff, asking about their family or how they are feeling. She often gets a smile – be it relief or comfort – in return.
At times patients will ask for a prayer or just want Sister Rosemary to sit with them and hold their hand. It’s a simple act of mercy that goes a long way.
During conversation stories are sometimes shared. Patients may recall an important moment in their lives that happened long ago, or they may simply ask for a prayer about one who is hurting. Moments of faith occur daily.
“A lot of it is listening,” Sister Rosemary said. “I hear so many stories, many beautiful stories, so faith enriching. I feel blessed to be part of this holy journey.”
A listening ear and a listening heart are important characteristics in a chaplain. The ability to pray with and for others, figuring out their needs and having the courage to ask about prayer if patients don’t mention it themselves all play a role.
“I think people can tell when you’ve got this caring attitude,” Sister Rosemary said. “I want them to experience that I care about what they are going through. Just the fact that I listen to them and offer to pray with them touches their heart.”
For 40 years Sister Nancy (M. Rachel) Recker fed thousands of people as a dietician, but today she nourishes their spiritual side as the chaplain to the ill and elderly Precious Blood Sisters at Maria-Joseph Center in Dayton.
It all goes together, she says.
“When you work in dietary you’re feeding the physical body. When you work in chaplaincy you work in the spiritual side,” she said. “It’s nourishment. You can’t feed one without the other. You’re still giving life.”
As she moves through the corridor on the third floor of Emma Hall, Sister Nancy brings peace and calm. She’ll take a Sister’s hand to begin a conversation or reach out to those who need a comforting touch or a pat on the back.
In addition to a tender voice and a gentle demeanor, Sister Nancy’s most important trait is an ability to listen. Listening to someone share concerns or grief is the foundation of a trusting relationship.
“Listening is important because you can’t help others if you don’t listen and learn what their concerns are,” Sister Nancy said. “To me that’s a real work of mercy,” Sister Nancy said. “It’s a human element and we all need somebody who we trust. We all need somebody to talk to.”
A corporal work of Mercy calls us to visit the sick. Sisters and residents in Emma Hall know they can share their burdens with Sister Nancy, knowing she’ll walk with them.
“When you visit people you sit down and you find out who they are. You just get to know them a little bit as a person.”
In addition, Sister Nancy helps with liturgy, ensures residents are offered the sacraments and distributes communion to Precious Blood Sisters and other residents.
As a chaplain, she is encouraged by the Sisters’ faith. She draws strength from them as they ease into their situations, embracing the next chapter of life.
“We’ve got some holy women on this floor. They inspire the heck out of me,” Sister Nancy said. “They’re teaching me to accept limitations.”
A native of Glandorf, Sister Nancy felt a call to religious life after eighth grade. She attended public high school in her freshman year, but the call persisted and she came to Precious Blood High School, the former aspirancy of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, as a sophomore.
“I never looked back,” she said. “I liked it.”
After formation she became a cook and eventually a registered dietician at several hospitals and Catholic institutions. The ministry was particularly fulfilling because as a child Sister Nancy wanted to be a cook in a seminary so she could feed the men who provided the spiritual nourishment.
As she grew older, Sister Nancy felt a call to chaplain ministry. She was asked to volunteer as a hospital chaplain for a short period and enjoyed it. She received an internship at St. Vincent Hospital in Toledo and trained at Mercy Hospital in Tiffin, Ohio, before taking the position at Emma Hall.
Becoming a chaplain was an opportunity for new growth. “Spiritually you keep growing and growing and growing,” she said. “You never stop. If you stop then you’re the loser because God keeps calling us to a different level, a deeper level. You just have to sit and listen to God.”
In the early 1980s, Precious Blood Sister Dorothy (M. Fidelia) Kammerer noticed a need for a place in Dayton where the less fortunate could enjoy hot, nutritious meals. She set out to fill it. With the support of area religious and social service organizations, Sister Dorothy secured a location, obtained tables and chairs, donations of food and other staples. The newly formed House of Bread was ready to open.
The first meal of soup, sandwiches, canned fruit, cookies and coffee was served on Dec. 3, 1983. About 19 people showed up. As word of the lunches began to spread more people came and guests numbered in the hundreds. The location needed to be moved.
In a history of the House of Bread, Sister Dorothy writes of the many guests. Their stories were unique, but they all expressed their gratitude for Sister Dorothy and the volunteers who fed them day after day.
Eventually, Sister Dorothy moved on to other ministries in Dayton and established The Other Place, a homeless shelter. She died in 2011, but the House of Bread continues to feed the hungry and The Other Place now operates as Homefull.
Sister Mary Ann (M. Hiltrude Ann) Smith also reached out to those in need for 20 years through her work at Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley. For 14 of those years she coordinated the agency’s emergency services operations. She started the Choice Food Pantry in Dayton, which continues to provide food to the needy in Dayton.
When she retired in 1988, she was recognized with a “Sister Mary Ann Smith Day” in Dayton and received a certificate of appreciation from the Dayton Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. She died in 1994.
As a therapist in Ohio prisons for 10 years, Sister Lou Ann (M. Charmaine) Roof tempered the rigors of rehabilitation with touches of mercy.
There was the time in 1987 when an inmate at the Oakwood Correctional Facility, a psychiatric hospital in Lima, Ohio, expressed anxiousness with being incarcerated and wanted to run. Not wanting to see the man punished, Sister Lou Ann suggested that when frustrated he look out his window and visualize a place of peace, describing how she enjoyed the ocean. The inmate, grateful that Sister taught him how to cope with his situation, created a chalk drawing of an ocean scene on a piece of bedsheet and secretly tucked it in a box of Sister’s belongings when he helped her move to another office.
She recalls another man who had been released on parole and was having difficulty readjusting. The man’s family, concerned that he may violate parole and be sent back to prison, begged Sister Lou Ann to talk with him. After receiving permission from the warden, Sister had a conversation with the former inmate. Her reassurance calmed him.
To help families deal with a loved one being incarcerated, Sister would meet the inmate’s relatives at visiting times. It was important to her that she help keep families connected.
“I would go to the visiting room to share with the families,” she said. “That isolation from family was so difficult for inmates and for their families.”
A former teacher and principal who later worked as a parish pastoral associate, Sister Lou Ann began working with inmates when she was trying to heal. She had been betrayed by someone in a previous ministry and both of her parents had recently died. Those experiences helped her better relate to the inmates, some of whom also felt betrayal.
“I was able to touch their lives,” said Sister Lou Ann. “I think that’s why God called me there.”
Sister never expected to minister in a prison, but when the opportunity came she was determined to work in rehabilitation, not corrections. During firearms training in her job orientation, she prayed that she would shoot well enough to pass, but not so well that she would be put on a squad that chased escapees.
Soon she settled into the challenging prison environment.
“My background in teaching and education gave me the skills to organize, create and make things positive,” she said. “Some people walked around and had no idea what to do with these guys.”
Working with inmates helped Sister Lou Ann heal. With the encouragement of a local priest, she began to pray for the man who had wronged her. He ended up losing his career and co-workers. He had no living family members and was alone. She felt sorry for him.
Eventually, her anger faded.
“Something happened inside of me where I could no longer hold grudges against him,” she said. “And once the grudge was gone, I felt peace.”
Looking back, Sister Lou Ann is grateful for the opportunities God has given her to be merciful.
When the United States was attacked in September 2001, a social studies teacher at a local high school brought a senior level class to the school library to watch the television broadcast. Sister Mary Ellen (M. Genesius) Lampe, the librarian, sensed a growing fear and pain experienced by the students. She began to reach out.
“It was an opportunity to assure them that while they were witnessing a terrible act, others were working for their safety. While the act was morally wrong and a tragedy, they need not fear for their lives and their families.” Sister Mary Ellen said, “No matter what else one is doing, at times like that there is an opportunity to share mercy or compassion.”
Throughout her ministry as a teacher, librarian and, currently, a tutor at the Brunner Literacy Center, Sister Mary Ellen has treasured these moments. Sometimes there were quiet, one-on-one talks with students who were grieving losses. Sometimes it meant reaching out to students who were struggling to reach their academic potential. Always it was striving to encourage all students to develop and acknowledge the uniqueness of their own gifts and to rejoice in them.
While studying for her Master of Library Science degree at then Rosary College in Illinois, Sister Mary Ellen also worked part-time in the college library. One evening a beleaguered freshman asked for help in putting together her first term paper. Together the student and Sister began with developing a statement, identifying resources, adopting a method for note taking, outlining, etc. About a month later, the student reported, “Sister, we got an A on that paper we did! Will you help me with another one?” Of course, Sister said, but this time the student would take the lead.
“That is where one gets the sense that this has really been a wonderful experience for both of us,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “She learned a lot and I had the joy of knowing she succeeded and that she was confident and enthusiastic about trying it again.”
It was precisely the opportunity to research an endless variety of subjects with students having a variety of interests and abilities that initially attracted Sister Mary Ellen to the field of Information Science. A librarian is uniquely positioned to assist others in developing foundational skills for lifelong learning. Students are taught where to find information and how to evaluate sources for accuracy and reliability.
When Sister Mary Ellen decided to enter the convent after graduating from Regina High in Norwood, Ohio, it came as quite a shock to family and friends. After all, Mary Ellen had been working part-time at the local public library and had her undergraduate courses and masters program in library science already planned.
God had other plans, but Sister Mary Ellen is grateful that she has been able to incorporate her preferred career choice into her service to Christ and His people, her ministry.
“It’s very interesting to see how God works in your life,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “The focus of my evolving spirituality is to remain open to however God wants to use me.”
Story by Dave Eck