Two CommonSpirit hospitals launching chaplain shadowing program for seminarians

June 1, 2023


As part of a broader effort to more closely integrate Catholic health care into Catholic parish life, two CommonSpirit Health hospitals soon will welcome third-year seminarians — all of whom are preparing for their final year of study — onto their campuses so they can learn about and experience what it's like to provide spiritual care to sick and dying people.

Under the partnership with St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California, the two hospitals — St. John Hospital in Camarillo and St. John's Regional Medical Center about 10 miles away in Oxnard — will host small cohorts of seminary students for six-week sessions. Participants will learn about why and how chaplains provide spiritual care to patients. They will shadow hospital chaplains in their daily work before being given opportunities to take the lead in providing spiritual care to patients.


The instruction and one-on-one shadowing will equip the seminarians with the skills they need to effectively minister to the sick and dying and support bereaved and grieving families, says Fr. Lawrence D. Ahyuwa, chaplain services supervisor for the Camarillo and Oxnard hospitals.

The chaplain shadowing program is important, Fr. Ahyuwa says, because "we need more priests that are people of the heart, not just people of the head. We need compassionate priests that are enthusiastic about hospital ministry." He says the program will foster such compassion and enthusiasm.


Up close and personal
George West, CommonSpirit vice president of mission integration for the Southern California market, and Fr. Marco A. Durazo, rector and president of the seminary, came up with the idea for the program quite a while ago, but it wasn't until recently that they began working with seminary and hospital staff to develop the syllabus. West and Fr. Durazo met more than a decade ago when Fr. Durazo spent a summer at St. John Hospital in Camarillo learning about spiritual care in an informal internship. The two kept in touch.

Six seminarians will begin the shadowing program this month. They will devote about 40 hours per week to the program. During didactic sessions led by hospital chaplains, the seminarians will learn about how chaplains provide a ministry of presence and how they honor cultural and religious diversity among patients. The seminarians will see firsthand how end-of-life care is provided and the types of ethical considerations that can arise in decision-making. They'll also learn how priest chaplains administer sacraments at the hospital.

Fr. Theophilus

The two hospitals jointly employ six chaplains — two of them are priests, one is a deacon and the others are with other Christian faith traditions. The seminarians will accompany these chaplains as they minister to patients, patients' loved ones and hospital employees. The chaplains will help the seminarians process their experiences after the encounters, which often can be emotionally fraught.

Fr. Malachy Theophilus, a staff chaplain at the two hospitals, says he hopes that by the end of the sessions, "the seminarians will be able to articulate for themselves a theology of spiritual care to the sick, drawn from their patient care encounters."

Whole person care
The concept of linking the work going on in Catholic health care with the spiritual services delivered in Catholic parishes — through the education of these seminarians — is in line with an initiative the California Catholic Conference and California's two Catholic health systems started in 2018 called the Whole Person Care Initiative, says West.

Under the partnership, the conference, which represents the state's bishops and their archdioceses and dioceses, is working with CommonSpirit and Providence St. Joseph Health to equip parishes to offer compassionate support to chronically and terminally ill parishioners.

Next generation of priests
Fr. Ahyuwa calls it "a rare privilege" to mentor future priests in this way for this essential work of the church.

Fr. Theophilus adds that "care of the sick is one of the most important aspects of Jesus' ministry," and thus is of great significance as part of priests' ministry.


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