By Karen Pugliese
One wintry December morning 31 years ago, I received a letter informing me that I was now a certified chaplain. Shortly thereafter I successfully met with a committee for advanced certification in rehabilitation medicine. As I prepare to renew my certification in 2015, I am also preparing for our new certification in palliative medicine. Opportunities for our professional advancement continue to abound within NACC!
I began attending annual conferences and was deeply impressed by the strong women leaders within NACC, such as Sisters Helen Hayes, Anita Lapeyre, and Monica Lucas. And by sisters in leadership roles like Kay Sheskaitis and Maryanna Coyle who were deeply connected to NACC in service. But perhaps I was most inspired by Flo Smithe, a certified chaplain and the first woman CPE supervisor, who like me, was also the mother of a large, active and growing family in the Chicago suburbs.
But as the NACC reaches its 50th anniversary, I don’t just want to reminisce. I want to honor the passion that the ministry of chaplaincy ignited in me and so many others — passion for the possibilities in ministry, passion for professionalism in ministry, and passion for the power of effective partnerships for advancing our profession. Although I will only touch on a few highlights, I hope my story can encourage others.
In 1984, NACC was organized by regions, and I quickly became involved in Region 7. I fondly remember liturgies and Certification Commission gatherings with our executive director, Fr. Joe Driscoll, at his home in Milwaukee. I attended almost every annual conference, benefiting from opportunities to both give and receive continuing education.
During my career, I have been blessed with opportunities to work with people, organizations, and environments in significant transition. When I accepted nomination to the Board of Directors in 2004, we were entering a period of great transition, and I felt called to help establish a meaningful and sustainable vision for the future of professional chaplaincy. In accepting the role of board chair, one of my initial challenges was planning and implementing our first visioning retreat, facilitated by Rod Accardi.
After a theologically grounded, reflective, and prayerful discernment process, we then talked with guests who sketched their vision of the future, and guided us in exploring where our energy and enthusiasm were leading us. We had also interviewed 12 leaders in the church, in ministry (several from our cognate organizations), mission, transformational development, and education. One was John Reid, founder and co-director of The Reid Group, a national church consulting and mediation company. NACC Interim Executive Director Fr. Tom Landry and I proposed that the board hire The Reid Group to plan our NACC Vision and Action Initiative. We were committed to deeply involve NACC membership in the process.
Seventeen members were invited to serve on the Planning Committee along with Fr. Landry, myself, John Reid, and Maureen Gallagher (Reid Group consultant in Milwaukee). Bishop Dale Melczek, our episcopal advisor, served as ex officio member. The group drafted a five-year plan to be presented at the annual conference in March, 2007. The prayerful, planful, and playful work of these dedicated and deeply committed chaplains engineered a bridge to the future while helping to heal individual and communal wounds.
A membership that felt disconnected from leadership became actively involved through email responses to drafts of the new goals posted on the website. Phone call focus groups and special-interest meetings sparked new energy. Monthly articles in Vision, local gatherings, and recruitment for opportunities to serve on expanded committees and the Board of Directors engaged members in a way that generated deeper commitment and ownership. Personally, I am proud of initiating the change in our professional credential designation from “NACC Cert.” to “BCC.” Throughout this process, participants formed deep and meaningful relationships with colleagues we might not have known otherwise, and who continue to serve NACC in many capacities.
NACC navigated several more transitions in my closing years on the board. We moved the national office to more practical and cost-effective office spaces. When Fr. Landry was called back to his diocese in Massachusetts, the board engaged in a prayerful and reflective nationwide search process facilitated by The Reid Group. Our quest culminated with the selection of David Lichter, D.Min., who joined us in August of 2007. David’s commitment to mission, his collaborative leadership style, team orientation, strategic abilities, and expertise in diverse planning and fundraising efforts continue to serve us well. He has traveled the country providing continuing educational and theological reflection programs while keeping costs amazingly low. I was blessed to work with both men, and to foster lasting personal and professional relationships with members of the NACC national office staff over the years.
One of my greatest joys was collaborating with our cognate partners in ministry. I feel some sadness that my vision for our coming together in a more formal organizational union never materialized, but I am comforted by the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero: “No pastoral visit brings wholeness. … No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. … We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. … We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Thirty-one years later, I am grateful to have been a part of NACC’s journey — incomplete, but a beginning, a step along the way into a future not our own.
Karen Pugliese, BCC, is an advanced practice chaplain at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, IL, and served on the NACC Board of Directors from 2004 to 2010.