Healing the Fourth Wound: Reaching the Homebound, the Sick, Burying the Dead and Faith Sharing

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About 70 people in St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish receive regular site visits. Approximately 25 of these are homebound. The rest are in nursing or assisted care facilities. Mr. Frank McGloin, a member of the pastoral staff and a M.A. level-counseling psychologist, coordinates this effort. Officially, he works about 19 hours a week. He sets his own schedule and pace. Often, he does work more than these required hours. He tries to have a quality visit with each person on the site list at least once a month. He follows a ritual. The visit lasts about an hour and concludes with a prayer/communion at the end of the visit. The time is important because he has found that many of these people get few visitors. While it is true that some of the caretakers of the people do visit, it is also true that so many of the people just live alone and have little contact with caretakers at all. Frank McGloin is quick to point out that he does not think of himself as a “life saver.” Still, there is no denying, that the people “like seeing me.”

How do people contact him? Phone contact is the most important means. He stressed quite strongly that email contact for the people served by this ministry is almost non-existent. Only three or four have a computer. The average age of the people is about 85. Many live in their family homes and have been long time parishioners. At the same time a good number also live at Future Care Services. Located in the immediate Irvington area, these individuals tend not to be long time parishioners. However, because the facility is in the traditional geographic area of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish, they have become parishioners by extension.

Frank McGloin much appreciates the fact that seven or eight people in this outreach ministry assist him. Normally, they make their visits after they attend Sunday Mass, which allows them to distribute the Eucharist. Some of these people have even helped bring those they visit to the doctor for an appointment. McGloin is very much a self-starter and very much accepts the notion that people in the parish know the value of Gospel-based visiting to the homebound even if they do not always ask a lot of questions or verbalize their support. That is just the living pulse of serving the homebound or people in health care facilities in these days. McGloin has kept a record of the number of visits he has made.

Conversation with Frank McGloin revealed a most interesting and historic shift has taken place in parish ministry to the sick. No doubt, most people still think that a priest or parish staff member spends a good amount of time visiting people in a local hospital. But this is less so than ever before for several reasons. First and foremost is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. It has restructured access to patient information. In the past, religious affiliation of the patient was a routine question during an admission which was to last several days. This was usually forwarded to the local parishes. Now it is the case that parishioners must request that information of themselves be made known to their parishes. But since modern medicine and health insurance have combined to make even the most demanding surgery as quick as possible, it has come to pass that patients are often out of the hospital before a member of the parish staff can adapt their schedule to make a visit! It has become a well-known fact that people are moved in and out of a hospital at a much faster rate. Furthermore, most major hospitals employ a chaplain on staff. These shifts point to the fact that historic parish-based sacramental ministry in a hospital setting operates in a new manner. Simply put, a visit of a parish staff member to a patient is less the case because the patient’s stay in the hospital is less the case.

St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish is also hoping that parishioners and people in the neighborhood call more and more on the services of Mrs. Terrie McGill. For the last two years, she has been the Faith Community Nurse. For years she worked as a community nurse in Baltimore and has a M.S. degree from Johns Hopkins in Organizational Development. A long-time African-American member of the parish, her retirement allowed her to have the time to respond to a trend she had seen with her own professional eyes. Weekend attendance at the liturgies were making her painfully aware that “a lot of people were falling through the cracks” when it came to attention and care. It was obvious that the people around her in the pews needed essential care as simple as having their blood pressure taken. She decided to “give back to the parish by becoming an advocate for them.” She hopes to build a consortium of people who will assist her. Some of these people have been members of the parish Health and Wellness Committee. Over the past years thy have tried to provide a variety of medical needs for adults and children at risk.

With honesty, Terrie McGill shared that she has every hope that more people will take advantage of her professional skills as a nurse. She spoke about how she suspects that many people in the parish have not contacted her because they have a good deal of pride and self-esteem and don’t want to admit they need assistance. She hopes continued education and outreach will lead parishioners and those in the neighborhood to realize that her services fulfill basic human needs. If needed she can visit a person at home, check on their health, and say a prayer with them or even give them communion.

Terrie McGill hopes that health programs will draw participation from local people. For instance, she had some 20 vendors come on a Sunday to participate in a free clinic. Now she knows that Saturday might be a better day. More and more she is trying to team up with Frank McGloin. In other instances, she is immediately hoping to develop a working relationship with My Brother’s Keeper and St. Bernardine’s Parish during Black History Month in February 2007. Hope is that this will serve as a foundation for the future. Optimistic, she wants to be seen as “some type of bridge” to increase health care for the parishioners and those in Irvington. She admits that she is motivated by her own faith and inspired by the faith of others. Again, because so few of the people use computers she hopes that people will just pick up the phone and leave her a message at the rectory. She wants to expand her outreach as the Faith Community Nurse of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish.

In addition, the last several years have seen a notable shift in the way that the parish has reached out to families of those who have died. It is that the previously mentioned staff members, Frank McGloin and Gail Fischer, now assist pastor Father Murphy in following the Gospel command to bless and bury the dead. Since his arrival in 2000 Father Murphy always has responded to the call to conduct graveside prayers at Loudon Park and New Cathedral Cemeteries, as well as other cemeteries and funeral homes. He believes the parish should respond to such requests, especially from the two major cemeteries that exist in the traditional geographic boundaries of the parish. This being so, many of these calls from the cemeteries or funeral home directors concern deceased persons who are not, in fact, members of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish. Furthermore, family members are not insistent on having a full Catholic service in a church. Their request is simply that someone from the church be at the grave side burial. These people, a great number being non-church goers while at the same time “cultural Catholics,” are most willing to have a service led by a pastoral staff member. The importance is the closure through some religious representative of the Catholic faith. This is a prudent and respectful approach all around because less and less are people familiar with the prayer responses for a Catholic graveside service. With this team approach, Father Murphy is able to handle those who desire to have a Mass of the Resurrection or prayer service in St. Joseph’s Monastery Church, as well as apportion time so as to reach out during a time of grief to the many who are to be buried from the local cemeteries or funeral homes.

Faith sharing is important. Frank McGloin has led a reflection group on Friday morning for those who wish to come to the parish rectory to share. To date, a small but faithful number have taken advantage of this. McGloin participates in a second group on Sunday, which meets in a room adjacent to the church sacristy after the 8:30 a.m. and before the 11 a.m. liturgy. It has been meeting for 16 years and consists of Scripture, prayer and most of all, an opportunity for personal reflection of faith. McGloin finds another kind of sharing takes place twice a month when the Prime Timers or parish seniors meet from 12 noon to 2:30 p.m. Brother August Parlavechio, C.P., when he was on the parish staff in the 1980s, started this popular group. Normally these meetings attract 35 people. No meetings are held during July and August.