The Gift of Presence
By Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem.
Between January and May of this year, I had the pleasure of partaking in an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, otherwise known as CPE. CPE is the program for those who want to be certified chaplains and work in settings such as hospitals or nursing homes. Also, completing a unit of CPE is a requirement for seminarians in many dioceses and religious communities, including the St. Norbert Abbey community. In CPE, one gains self-knowledge and grows as a pastoral minister through clinical hours and group processing. There were four other students in the unit besides myself, guided by our CPE supervisor.
I completed my clinical hours as a chaplain intern in two hospitals and a nursing home/assisted-living facility in the Chicago area. Anyone who has taken part in CPE would agree that certain ministerial encounters stick with you. I recall a number of times going to the room of a patient who had just died and offering spiritual support to any family or friends present. I do not think anything can fully prepare you for handling these or similar situations, because each person, each family, is unique, and the dying experience for loved ones impacts people differently. In such situations, I recall feeling like there was something more I should have been doing. However, the family or friends of the deceased were often just grateful for my presence. In their time of sorrow, my presence and support meant more to them than I realized.
Early on in my unit of CPE, I was on the other side of such a sorrowful situation—the unexpected death of my brother in early February. My family and I, as well as many others, grieved over his death. That first week, especially the first few days, were tremendously hard for me. It did not seem real at times. I just wanted to see my brother again. However, it was the presence and support of those around me that helped me through that difficult time.
My family, friends, CPE supervisor, and group members were there for me. My fellow brothers in Norbert were also present and supportive, such as Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., who drove me from Chicago to St. Norbert Abbey the morning after I received the news of my brother’s death. There was also Fr. James Baraniak, O. Praem., who reached out to my parents upon learning the news. And how can I forget the many Norbertines present at my brother’s funeral Mass. It is moments like these that show me I joined the right community—a community of faithful brothers who care.
Ironically, I learned about grief in CPE as I grieved over the loss of my brother. Grief can be thought of as a wound that starts out large but gets smaller over time. However, like a scar, it will never go away. In my opinion, the supportive presence of those close to us can help with the diminishment of grief. I experienced this supportive presence myself and am glad I was able to minister to others in such a way as a chaplain intern in CPE.
Where We Minister
As stated in the mission of St. Norbert Abbey, “We give ourselves in service to one another and to people in need, with special emphasis on service and advocacy for the poor. We commit ourselves to our traditional ministries, while being open to new apostolates.”
Members of the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey minister at hospitals and nursing homes, among other apostolates.