By Charlie Stump
The Catholic Diocese of Dallas has experienced rapid growth since 2000, from around 500,000 to 1.3 million Catholics within 70 parishes. Hospitals have grown as well, but the last remaining Catholic hospital was sold in 2005. Parish pastors have only enough time to provide sacramental care of anointing of the sick and reconciliation to hospitals within their parish boundaries. With the focus on shorter stays in the hospital, day surgery, rehab centers, outpatient care, assisted living, memory care facilities, home health care, and hospice care, it was time to develop a new model of care.
In recent years, the Diocese of Dallas has increased the number of Catholic chaplains that it employs for hospital work to two priests, three deacons, and two religious. We have also seen more secular hospitals employing Catholic board-certified chaplains. Our two priests cover five hospitals, providing sacramental care, including Sunday Mass in four hospitals, while the deacons and religious provide pastoral care for Catholic patients. But now we are looking outside the hospital walls to assist the parishes in training volunteer ministers and parish-employed ministers of pastoral care.
The vision of the diocese has three levels of pastoral care ministers, beginning with the parish volunteer who has been installed as a Communion minister by his/her pastor. This lay minister completes a 21-hour training program and is commissioned to serve in in hospitals, prisons, and ministry to the sick and homebound of their specific parish community.
We hope that many of these volunteers will continue to listen to the call of Jesus and pursue the next, more advanced level of pastoral care ministry. This level of ministry would complete the Certificate in Pastoral Ministry program offered by the University of Dallas Neuhoff School of Ministry. This certificate includes 12 core courses and six elective courses. Courses are typically offered over a five-week period, in two-hour sessions, at a number of sites throughout the diocese.
After completing this coursework and receiving the Certificate in Pastoral Ministry, the minister would then complete at least two units of hospital CPE before being endorsed by the diocese for a paid position in a parish as a pastoral minister of care. The job description for this position would be developed by the parish to include supervision and continued training of the first-level volunteer ministers of care. In addition, this minister would develop a parish relationship with the medical and continued care facilities within the parish boundaries.
This parish role would also be available to deacons who have completed two units of CPE. Recently ordained deacons might receive a dual assignment, one of which would be hospital or prison ministry. A parish with a large roster of volunteer ministers serving a community hospital and caring for the homebound and local assisted living facilities would be directed by an Endorsed Minister of Care who works with the pastor to make sure the parishioners receive necessary pastoral ministry and sacramental care.
The third level of pastoral care is board-certified chaplains employed by the diocese to provide hospital pastoral care. Also included in this model of pastoral care is a deanery chaplain, who is assigned to the number of parishes within the diocese’s deanery system. This chaplain will serve as a resource to the pastors and the endorsed ministers of care.
The parish pastor generally has only enough time to be a sacramental minister and an administrator of his church without attempting to provide daily pastoral care. With the help of a deanery chaplain and an endorsed minister of care, the pastor has the additional resources that he needs to know which patients need sacramental care and is comforted by knowing that his parishioners are getting the pastoral care they need.
The Diocese of Dallas is in the process of implementing the program described here. One of the current Catholic hospital chaplains is being reassigned as a deanery chaplain for one of the northern deaneries in the Diocese of Dallas. He will coordinate the existing parish pastoral ministers, provide training for the volunteer ministers of care, and coordinate with the pastors to meet the sacramental needs of patients in healthcare facilities. The deanery chaplain will be the catalyst to implement the parish pastoral care program. As laypeople move through the various steps of the program, we will be able to refine the program to meet the needs of the various parishes.
Pope Francis has challenged us, clergy and lay people, to continue the mission of Jesus. By our baptism we are empowered to care for one another in the Body of Christ. In order to accomplish this edict, we have to rethink and establish new ways of caring for the pastoral needs of Catholics in all settings.
Deacon Charlie Stump, MS, MPM, is director of pastoral services for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.