Day of recollection provides reset for Covenant Health mission and spiritual care leaders

August 1, 2023

Colin McNabb wanted to offer a reset for the mission and spiritual care professionals within the Covenant Health system, so he brought them together for a day this spring to reflect and connect.


"I think the best way to think of it is the nurse and our clinical teams are responsible for (patients') bodies," he said. "We're responsible for their souls. And the care of souls, I think, is a great responsibility."

The First Annual Spiritual Care Day of Recollection went off so well that McNabb hopes to make it a yearly event.

McNabb is director of mission and pastoral care at St. Mary Health Care Center, a rehabilitation and eldercare facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, that is part of Covenant Health. He intentionally planned the gathering for just after the busy Easter season. Fourteen of his peers from all levels of the health system joined him at the May 23 event. Covenant Health includes 15 hospitals, skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers and assisted living residences in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Retreat with a view
The day was meant to be a time for the group to get together physically. They normally see one another once a year at a fall retreat, and in regular virtual meetings.

McNabb wanted to plan a gathering that would be less of a burden for all than an overnight retreat. He's close with Msgr. James Moroney, director of the Office of Divine Worship in the Diocese of Worcester. Msgr. Moroney offered to speak and lead conversations for the day.

McNabb arranged through his counterpart Sandra Lucas at St. André Health Care to use the meeting space at the nursing home in Biddeford, Maine. St. André's grounds overlook the Saco River. The location meant nobody had to drive longer than two hours, and participants could walk through the grounds and gardens during reflection time.

McNabb didn't want anybody to prepare or bring anything for the day: all they had to do was show up. He gave notebooks and pens to each participant, as well as prayer cards featuring the Sacred Heart. Those cards were placed underneath prayer cards for Our Lady of the Streets, reflecting St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort's teaching that one must go through Mary to get to Jesus. The notebooks were accented with a fleur-de-lis, a symbol used at St. André.

The theme of the day was "Two keys to being Christ for others: Vulnerability and Love." McNabb thought Mary was a good representation of vulnerability and the Sacred Heart a representation of love. The morning included a presentation, reflection and discussion on vulnerability, and the afternoon followed a similar format on love.

Covenant Health system mission and spiritual care professionals gathered this May for the First Annual Spiritual Care Day of Recollection at St. André Health Care in Biddeford, Maine. Stephen Alaimo, president of St. André Health Care, speaks at the session.

Lucas, director of mission integration and spiritual care for St. André, pointed out that Msgr. Moroney reminded those at the gathering that the face of the Lord is in the imprisoned, sick and dying.

"It was a reminder that the 'I' in 'I was sick, and you visited me' is the vulnerable patient in the ICU, the lonely resident in the nursing home, the dying person in hospice care," Lucas said. "In our work, we gaze upon the face of the suffering Christ. That gaze heals us of our need to be viewed as holy or effective."

Msgr. Moroney told them of seeing that face: "It will transform you."

Never alone
Kevin Flynn, vice president — mission integration and ethics for St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, New Hampshire, was among the attendees. He said that mission in Catholic health care "serves as an anchor in times of leadership transition. It permeates the organization and is part of the fabric of our souls."

Flynn said the collegiality and camaraderie among mission colleagues is a source of strength and sustainability. "They remind us that we're never alone, even during a pandemic," he said. "It is easier to care for others when you're surrounded by colleagues who share and embrace the same mission."

McNabb encourages other spiritual care professionals who might be thinking about planning such a day to go for it. "It's not going to be something grand the first time you do it," he said. "You just have to try."

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