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On Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian season of Lent, Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center gave patients, families, and staff the opportunity to receive ashes on their foreheads in the sign of the cross.
Among those taking part in the ritual was patient Rose England of Tiffin. Her son, Scott England, was visiting when a hospital chaplain arrived. Mr. England moved to the background so Ms. England could receive attention from the hospital chaplain.
Everett Charette of Toledo, a chaplain on the staff of Mercy St. Vincent, sat by her bed and explained that part of the reason for imposition of ashes “is to remind us that the Lord asks for mercy as well as sacrifice and prayer.”
Mr. Charette, 71, is a Roman Catholic layman, not an ordained priest.
He is trained as a hospital chaplain and certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
Mr. Charette has been on the pastoral care staff at Mercy St. Vincent 13 years, and he was a chaplain for 10 years before that at Mercy St. Charles Hospital in Oregon.
“I am walking on very sacred ground” in ministry to families and patients, “listening to what’s happening in the person’s life,” Mr. Charette said later. “I receive affirmation of the Lord’s presence in my life as well. I may provide some reflection of God or a sense of the holy to another person,” he said, and that connection “affirms that I am in the right ministry.”
Ms. England, who was admitted to the hospital three days before, on Sunday, said that the sacred aspect, such as receiving communion in the hospital as well as the ashes, helps in her healing.
“I know [Jesus] died to save us and I pray to Him all the time,” she said, “and He has helped me through. I've had a bad year; I started out with a heart attack and many things over the past year, but He’s here to help me through each time.” She relies on her faith and the doctors, said Ms. England, whose home parish is St. Mary Catholic Church in Tiffin.
Mr. Charette, who worships at Corpus Christi University Parish in Toledo, stepped off a path to the priesthood before pursuing chaplaincy.
“I studied with the Maryknoll priesthood for 10 years,” he said. “I went overseas in a training program before ordination, to Tanzania, East Africa, and while over there I learned what the missionary life is like. When I came back to the States, I said, “You know, I'm just kidding myself. Someday I’d like to get married.” Instead of being ordained, Mr. Charette “found a job in hospital ministry in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1983,” he said. He has been a hospital chaplain ever since. And he married; he and his wife have two children and four grandchildren, with grandchildren five and six due in March and September.
The changes and directions in Ms. England’s life were not as orderly, but she also helped others. Then illness got in the way.
“I grew up in the Green Springs area,” Ms. England said. “I had two restaurants at one time, and then I gave them up and went to cook at a nursing home. Then I started with the bad health and had to give that up, too.” It wasn’t just health that troubled her life. She is divorced, and her oldest daughter, one of three children, died. But she observed, lying in her hospital bed, that “somebody's always got it tougher than we do.”
Mr. Charette sees those who have it tough, “anywhere from five or six to almost 30 [patients a day], depending upon the trauma that we have and where we’re called in the hospital.”
Tending to the spirits of patients, families, and medical center staff members can make it tough for a chaplain, too.
“How do I nourish myself?” Mr. Charette asked. “It’s a combination of activity,” such as his hobbies of genealogy research and photography, “and also socialization with friends,” he said. “And underneath all that, I need to take time out for quiet every day, if possible — time for reflection, just to be alone, to stop the dialogue in my mind, stop the racing story that’s going on, and try and be present with God. That’s either in chapel, or sometimes I’m able to do that while driving home, which is sort of a decompression time. All of that, along with being with my grandchildren, that really refreshes me.”
Ms. England was discharged from Mercy St. Vincent on Thursday.
Contact TK Barger: email@example.com or 419-724-6278.