Program prepares those who minister to the sick and dying


Recognizing the Church’s fundamental responsibility to care for those who are sick, the Diocese of Trenton's Certificate Program in Pastoral Care provides participants with the education and formation tools they need to serve in that ministry more competently and compassionately.

The third group to complete the 36-hour program that the Office of Pastoral Care inaugurated in 2007 was awarded certificates during a prayer service held April 9 in St. Anselm Church, Wayside, N.J.

Among the men and women from throughout Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties to receive certificates included a priest, a deacon, a religious sister, and a host of parish leaders and ministers, professional chaplains and nursing home and hospital staff members.

The new graduates bring to 191 the number of pastoral care ministers who have earned certificates of completion since the program’s inception. There are also another 33 persons who have participated in the program, but will receive their certificates upon completion of all course work requirements.

According to Deanna Sass, director of the Office of Pastoral Care, the certificate program was initiated in response to the requests made by pastors that there be a centralized  and comprehensive training and formation program for those who currently minister to the sick as well as those with an interest in pursuing such a ministry.

Program topics included pastoral theology; listening skills; end-of-life issues; legal issues; grief and loss; bereavement; dealing with families or patients who are facing mental illness or addiction issues, and self-care for caregivers. Among the presenters were priests, religious and laity who work as attorneys, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, certified chaplains, licensed counselors, bereavement trainers, spiritual directors, doctoral level theologians, social workers and bioethicists.

Sass noted that the program allows participants to network with others, and offers experiential practice with lectures, videos and readings.

Among the certificate recipients was Sister of St. Joseph Peg Boyle, who has about 17 years of experience serving in pastoral care ministry. She was in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, for 14 years, and then for the past three years has been in St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton. Her prior work as an educator had her serving in a number of schools in various archdioceses/dioceses including Philadelphia, Newark, Allentown and Camden.

For Sister Peg, it was the experience in having lived at home for three years between the two Burlington County parish assignments and caring for her parents that was the impetus for her getting into pastoral care work.

“I credit my parents for my move from education into pastoral ministry,” said Sister Peg, who holds certification in pastoral ministry from La Salle University, Philadelphia, and a master’s degree in counseling.

Much of Sister Peg’s current pastoral care work is spent at Virtua Hospital, Marlton, visiting with patients, bringing them the Eucharist and “listening to them.” She also networks with other parish ministries as well as with St. Joan of Arc School students in other areas, such as providing ministry to shut-ins of the parish.

Of the certificate program, Sister Peg said she found it to be worthwhile and a “wonderful way” for her to update her skills.

Many times, people will say that they are “not worthy to do pastoral care work and “I’ll tell them that they are right. None of us are worthy,” she said.

“But the Lord has invited us as priestly people to reach out to each other and the need is certainly there with people who are shut-ins and those in the hospital or rehab facilities,” said Sister Peg. Even though pastoral care ministers are the ones “bringing the Lord to these people, and that is certainly a gift, we too are the ones who are also enriched.”

Another certificate recipient, Susan Ostmann of St. Joseph Parish, Millstone Township, said her journey to becoming a pastoral care minister stemmed from a personal experience. In 2001, she lost both her mother and grandmother to illness not only in the same year, but on the same day – within about 15 minutes of each other.

Instead of becoming angry, bitter and resentful, Ostmann decided to channel her energy into something positive that would allow her to help others who are dealing with grave family illnesses and grieving losses by getting involved in bereavement ministry and eventually in pastoral care ministry.

That experience, she said, “opened me up to really wanting to do this kind of work.”

In addition to her background as a nurse, a certified bereavement counselor and former participant in the diocesan bereavement training program, Ostmann for the past four years, has volunteered in St. Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center, Long Branch. In addition to visiting with the residents in the facility, she also visits the sick in nursing homes as well as the homebound.

“I go wherever I’m needed,” she said, noting that her duties range from bringing the Eucharist to the patients, praying with them, and, most importantly, “just being present to them” and their families.

By participating in the diocesan Pastoral Care Certificate Program, Ostmann said she was able to broaden her pastoral care skills.

“The program gave me added confidence,” she said. “I feel more confident in my work with hospice,” she said.

Printed with permission from the Monitor, newspaper for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.

Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome