St. Mary's Regional Medical Center leaders nurture their spirituality

October 1, 2011


"Food for the soul."

That is how Paul Rouleau describes the Spiritual Grounding sessions he attends regularly at St. Mary's Health System in Lewiston, Maine.

Rouleau, who is director of adult behavioral services at the system's St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, is among the dozens of St. Mary's leaders who participate in the hour-long gatherings that the system offers each month on-campus. During each session, participants focus on a different theme — such as compassion, forgiveness, kindness, blessings and vulnerability. The sessions start with written reflections, readings or a video. Participants are invited to share their insights about the subject at hand.

Elizabeth Keene, who is St. Mary's vice president of mission effectiveness, facilitates about a half dozen such sessions each month for discrete St. Mary's groups, including system leaders, nurse leaders and executive secretaries. Up to a dozen participants attend each session.

"It's a time for them to slow down and to reconnect with and reaffirm their spirituality," Keene said.

St. Mary's, which includes a medical center, physician network, nursing home, independent living center and other facilities, began the Spiritual Grounding sessions in 2005 with some senior leaders as a way to form them for their role in the ministry. The system wanted its leaders to be able to articulate how their own spirituality is connected to their work in the Catholic health ministry.

Denise Timberlake, a surgical services nurse manager at the system's St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, participates in Spiritual Grounding about four times per year. She said she enjoys getting together with colleagues with whom she may not normally interact and "having a chance to discuss issues we wouldn't normally discuss together."

Kevin Healey, St. Mary's system's vice president for human resources, also likes hearing his colleagues' ideas. "The topic and questions lead to shared reflections that spark something in me that I often think about for several days beyond the session," he said.

Healey has been attending Spiritual Grounding about once a month since the program began. He said that while it is difficult to carve out even one hour a month to attend, he does so because "the type of work I do is mentally draining," and the sessions provide a welcome balance and boost.

Keene gets her ideas for session topics from conversations she has around the health system and from materials she gets from organizations including CHA.

While many participants are Catholic, not all are — people of all faiths or none are welcome. René Dumont, the St. Mary's system's chief information officer and vice president of strategic growth, is a regular at the Spiritual Grounding meetings. While the sessions complement his Catholic faith life, Dumont believes the content would appeal to anyone with a sense of spirituality, regardless of their faith tradition.

At the meetings, Keene works to establish a safe atmosphere and gain people's trust, so that they are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with their colleagues. Several ground rules help to maintain this sense of security: Participants must respect one another's views, people can pass if they do not wish to contribute to the discussion and everyone agrees not to divulge what is discussed outside of the session.

Keene said the discussions enable colleagues to get to know each other in new and deeper ways.

Rouleau said the flavor of the conversation varies by who attends — as a different mix of people may participate in any given session. "I've been really wowed by these folks," he said of the session participants. "They are really deep thinkers."

Dumont said, "I love the element of surprise — the revelations and insights that arise about my colleagues and myself."

He added that while Spiritual Grounding equips the participants for their role in providing holistic care, he believes the sessions have a positive effect beyond St. Mary's. "The insights I gain through the Spiritual Grounding sessions impact all aspects of my life. They impact me as a human being — as a man, husband, father, son, brother, professional colleague, friend, etcetera."

Rouleau has found the same. For instance, a session focused on fathers, around the time of Father's Day, got him thinking about what it means to be a dad, and inspired him to go home and write letters to his children and wife.

"Spiritual Grounding is a gift that the organization gives to us," said Rouleau.


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.