By Sr. Anita Lapeyre
I was fortunate to be part of a formative era in NACC history, and to work with people with great vision. In the early ’70s, I completed my year’s course in the Corporate Ministry Program at St. Louis University, where I did my internship under Fr. Tim Toohey. That led to becoming a chaplain at St. Mary’s Health Center in St. Louis, where Fr. Toohey asked me to begin with him and Father Al Houser a new pastoral care program based on the new theology of Vatican II.
The wonder of this time was that I became associated with great men and women who were creative and who somehow gathered around Tim and the Rev. Hal Murray and others. There were the VA chaplains, in particular Jim Martin, who were advocating for recognition of our certification, which at that time really consisted of a two-week workshop. That changed as the first women were certified, including Rose Carmel McKenna and several others. No longer was chaplaincy for the ordained only. This forced us to look at what was appropriate training for the profession, looking for federal recognition. This was particularly important to the VA chaplains, who were being passed over for promotions and raises.
The Board of Examiners had been established by the United States Catholic Conference, and they became interested in improving the education of chaplains and of getting recognized by the Department of Education. I happened to be on the Board of Examiners when these various groups began to gather, along with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and the VA chaplains. There were lively conversations, and from these gatherings some became clearer.
- There was a need for more and better training of chaplains and supervisors.
- We needed to clarify whether the authority to certify came from the bishops or from the growing NACC organization.
- Clear and meaningful standards needed to be written, and approved by the Department of Education.
- Chaplaincy was no longer only for the ordained, and we needed to educate hospital administrators and bishops of the value of lay chaplains, as well as provide standards of education that would serve those in the field.
During this time, Rev. Paul Henry was the Executive Director of the Board of Examiners. In the late ’70s he resigned to enter parish work again. The board, chaired by Monsignor Hal Murray, was meeting shortly after this announcement.
Here is another moment of the Holy Spirit in action in my life. We were riding in the elevator to the meeting room, and Hal turned to us and asked, “Who would like to take over Paul’s job?” I didn’t stop to think before saying, “I would.” It was another answer that led to wonderful, fulfilling years of service.
One of the assigned tasks for this position was to write standards for certification and accreditation as well as run the office for the certification process of the Board of Examiners. Groups formed with many of the wise elders as well as those newly certified. There are too many to recount, but some of the most prominent were Fr. Dick Tessmer, Kevin Tripp, Sr. Julie Houser, Rod Accardi, John Gillman, Art Metello and many others who attended meetings, gave workshops and worked tirelessly to gather ideas and refine these first standards. Education for chaplaincy was changed from a two-week workshop to at least two units of CPE. Most of us knew that we were heading toward four units, but we needed time to educate the laity and others about the need for further education both in theology and in the art of pastoral care.
After three years in the Washington office, the Board of Examiners moved its center to Catholic Charites. It was here that we learned that the hard work of many was not sufficient to merit federal recognition. Their rationale was that ACPE was already recognized to do this same work and this was an unnecessary duplication.
Sr. Kay Sheskaitis then took over my position and moved the office to Milwaukee to be closer to the NACC, which was growing quickly. They devised a new system of geographical regions, and certification was done in each region. This proved to be a wonderful way for bonding between members, but the certification process and adherence to the guidelines was often sacrificed to the political and local needs of each region. As the NACC continued to develop, regional certification ended, and the national certification committee became responsible for standards.
The relationship between the NACC and the USCC (later USCCB) was often a debated topic. After many conversations, NACC was able to grant certification in the name of the USCCB. This arrangement gave us the ability to continue to update standards and the method of certification, but standards were still to be approved by the USCCB. As I chaired the Certification Commission while we worked through all these changes, I was again blessed to have many dedicated colleagues who made huge contributions. Where we are today is because of these men and women who gave so very much of their time and effort to envision the future and to value the call of each one to serve the Church. There are far too many to name, but I think we all have our heroes and heroines who have worked to establish a truly professional certification process and to change our lives as ministers in the Church. Certification is in good hands.
Sr. Anita Lapeyre, RSCJ, was chair of the Certification Commission from 2000 to 2006.