Photo courtesy of Nat Clymer
Living a life of spiritual service is not easily understood by many. Nor can it always be succinctly explained by the amazing people who choose such a life. But their very presence in the world makes an important difference.
The modern St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA owes its existence to the “legacy of love” established by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Fifty years ago, the Sisters had the vision to open a hospital to care for the booming population of Bucks County. In the 1960’s, a delegation of sisters travelled to what was then a horse farm. By 1973, the new hospital had 128 beds and 200 hundred physicians ready to accept and treat patients. At that time, the only diagnostic test available was an X-ray. The nurses who staffed the hospital were visions in white, from their starched caps to their white shoes and stockings. Over the years, treatments and styles have changed. But the Sisters’ commitment to their vision to bring compassionate healthcare to the region never wavered.
Founded as a Catholic hospital, St. Mary honors and respects people of all faiths. Its Spiritual Care Department has been instrumental in helping patients and families negotiate the often-clinical world of medical treatment by addressing spiritual needs no matter what an individual’s religious preference, race, or nationality. Two stories come to mind that illustrate this point.
- Father Raju, a beloved priest at St. Mary is from India. He is blessed with a wonderful serene and calming aura, which brings peace to patients and families when he enters their presence.
I witnessed an example of this ability with a large, close knit Jewish family. The patriarch was lying very still near death in his darkened room on the oncology unit; his wife of many years sat at his side. The family was anxiously waiting for their rabbi, who was delayed. I had been checking on the family throughout the morning and noticed the heightened anxiety. I quietly asked Ed’s daughter if she would like me to ask Father Raju to come. She tearfully replied, “Oh yes, please!”
Father arrived very quickly. As he entered the room, and quietly introduced himself to the family, a palpable calm could be felt. Father Raju reverently recited several psalms, and also chanted the Mi Shebeirach, the Hebrew prayer for the sick*.
- Madeline Marr was a chaplain for over 20 years at St. Mary. She had a knack for building rapport with patients and her kindness and caring was infectious. In addition to these qualities, she had a “secret weapon.” Prior to visiting her patients, she came to my office and chose one masculine and one feminine looking afghan, handmade by the crafters. Armed with these, she was able to start a conversation with patients who might not otherwise be willing to speak with a chaplain. Starting a conversation about the afghan quite often led to more in-depth sharing of their anxiety, fear, anger, or depression.
She had a wonderful way of putting patients at ease and helping them express these deep emotions. She was also a big supporter of the crafters and the items they made. She often found that entering a room with a beautiful and colorful afghan was an ice breaker that allowed her to get to know the patient better and eventually help her help them . She may have entered the room and encountered a sad, withdrawn person who had no hope. But by the time she left, the patient knew that someone did care. Madeline found that often the spiritual healing worked hand and hand with the excellent medical care the patients were receiving.