Couple lives their calling by visiting the sick
Friday, Jul. 15, 2016
OGDEN — Catholic chaplains are people who are appointed by the Catholic Church to work in all kinds of places outside the normal life of the congregation.
Hospitals, workplaces, prisons, the armed forces, shopping centers, rural areas, colleges, universities and schools are but a few of the places where chaplains work.
The National Association of Catholic Chaplains states that chaplains come from diverse backgrounds such as health care, education, pastoral ministry, social work, and many other careers in the business and non-profit worlds.
“Most people speak of a common tug of their own religious calling to ministry, to be with and make a difference in the lives of those who experience life’s most challenging and painful moments, and to witness to God’s healing presence in the midst of their suffering,” the NACC web page states.
Among the Catholic chaplains in the Diocese of Salt Lake City is Deacon John Thaeler, who volunteers at the Ogden Regional Medical Center in the Pastoral Care Department. His wife, Marcy Thaeler, is the department’s manager. The Thaelers are Holy Family parishioners.
“For me it is amazing to be a chaplain in a hospital setting,” said Marcy Thaeler. “My role encompasses many different facets: from individual contact with patients and their families, to offering support to the medical team in difficult situations, to helping form policies and practices, which have the Benedictine Rule ‘Care must be taken of the sick as though they were Christ in person’ as their root.”
The couple works very closely together on hospital chaplaincy, added Deacon Thaeler, who said the example of commitment, hard work, and camaraderie between spouses is a reflection of his parents.
His father was a physician – a surgeon and general practitioner who also was an educator, hospital developer and administrator, he said, while his mother was a nurse, surgical assistant, dietician and nursing instructor.
“Both of my parents spent many, many years working together in the medical field,” he said. “They served for 30 years as missionaries in Nicaragua before returning to this country to positions of doctor and nurse for another 25 years in a retirement community in Florida.”
For their part, Deacon Thaeler now works in the hospital a couple of hours every Sunday, while Marcy Thaeler is a full-time employee who also serves on the hospital’s ethics, trauma, mission, emergency preparedness committees.
When Deacon Thaeler entered the diaconal program in 2006 he was expected to become involved in some form of community service; because his wife was working as a chaplain at Ogden Regional Medical Center, becoming a volunteer in pastoral care seemed like a good choice, he said.
He received his preliminary training from Benedictine Sister Stephanie Mongeon, the hospital’s former director of Mission and Community Relations, who asked Deacon Thaeler to become a part-time on-call chaplain.
To receive the necessary qualifications, he enrolled in the St. Mark’s Chaplaincy Program.
When his wife became the department manager, he gave up working as an employee of the hospital but has continued as a volunteer.
“On Sunday mornings I first visit patients listed as Catholics, sharing Communion with those able to receive and offering prayer otherwise,” he said. “Sometimes the visits amount to being a good listener, offering encouragement to those who are suffering, and supporting family members who are present.”
Then he visits the LDS patients finding out if they would like an Elder to bring them the sacrament. Patients of other denominations and faiths are visited later in the day by another volunteer.
“Hearing the faith journeys of patients is most meaningful,” he said. “Often I am thanked for my visits, but usually I am just as grateful for the opportunity of meeting kind people under trying circumstances.”
For Marcy Thaeler, coordinating and supporting local pastors of various faiths and facilitating the Grief Support and Resilient for Life group is a real pleasure, she said, adding that one of the things that she appreciates the most is the way God works in people’s lives but also in their dying.
“Some of our patients may have just suffered a terrible, life-taking accident and be as gracious and thankful as the couple who just gave birth to their first child,” she said. “Life is sacred, and God works through all experiences. Our individual perspective on any situation is the key. If we approach all of life with faith, all of life becomes meaningful and valuable. We see God in everyone and every happening. It never ceases to amaze me, when patients thank me for the simplest gesture, such as bringing them communion, or listening to their story for a few minutes.”
Her own story of how she entered the field of pastoral care is similar to her husband’s in that, when she was discerning some years ago where God was calling her, it was the Sisters of St. Benedict who suggested she consider pastoral care.
“I looked at them in astonishment, as I could not even watch a whole episode of ’Emergency’ on the TV with our children. How could I possibly minister in a hospital setting?” she said.
However, after completing Clinical Pastoral Education and receiving a master’s degree in Health Care Mission, and passing the National Association of Catholic Chaplains’ board certification, “I can now go to the emergency room and stay as long as needed. God works in mysterious ways,” said Marcie Thaeler.