Sacred Heart chaplain Msgr. Edmund Klimek remembered for compassionate care

October 1, 2013

Msgr. Edmund Klimek, whose commitment to the sick and suffering left a lasting impression on patients and staff at Sacred Heart Hospital and touched the greater community of Eau Claire, Wis., died on Aug. 28 at age 85.

Msgr. Klimek lived at the hospital for 45 years. Staff knew him as a humble and deeply spiritual man, who always put the needs of patients and families above his own and seemed to know almost instinctively when a patient was approaching death and might find comfort through his presence.

Msgr. Klimek was a spiritual pillar for hospital staff and community physicians, too, providing counsel and reminders of the importance of tending to the body, mind and spirit of the hospital's patients.

CHA honored Msgr. Klimek on June 3 with its Lifetime Achievement Award for his leadership in the health ministry and his legacy of inspiring and mentoring others. He was the first hospital chaplain to receive that recognition. When he accepted the award at CHA's national assembly in Anaheim, Calif., he urged the ministry leaders in the audience to continue providing pastoral care, which he considered integral to the Catholic health care mission. It is especially important to be present for the dying, he told the audience. "Within a Catholic hospital, there should not be a patient that ever dies alone," he said. And he said that spiritual care in a hospital "may not bring in money, but it brings in what we are about."

Julie Manas, Sacred Heart's president and chief executive, said generations of families in the region had ties to Msgr. Klimek, recalling him celebrating their weddings and baptisms. And many people tell her how much they appreciate the time he spent at their bedsides or ministering to a hospitalized loved one. "They'd know they weren't alone in the fight, whatever that fight was," she said.

Manas said Msgr. Klimek stopped by her office daily, catching her up on his day and listening to her, offering counsel or a hug. Later she found out he did the same for many of her colleagues. "He had this way of making us feel we were so, so special," she said.

Mary Ellen Bliss, administrative assistant for the pastoral care office, said Msgr. Klimek made certain that non-Catholic patients had pastoral visits from ministers and spiritual caregivers within their own faith traditions. He was instrumental in bringing together teams of care providers to speak directly with patients and their families, so they'd better understand the person's health and what the next steps would be. "He taught us well," Bliss said.

Sacred Heart established the "Father Klimek Healing Presence Award" in 2000 as its highest recognition for a long-term hospital employee. It honors an individual for a lifetime of humble service to the sick.

Msgr. Klimek was born in Arcadia, Wis., on Oct. 31, 1927, to Frank and Susan Klimek. He was the second youngest of six children.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 16, 1953. He began his ministerial career as a parish priest and educator. In 1968, he became administrator at St. Bridget Parish in Springfield, Wis., which included residence and chaplain responsibilities at Sacred Heart Hospital, the hospital said in a statement. Msgr. Klimek started the pastoral care department at the hospital in 1972, and, in July 1977, he was named Sacred Heart's senior priest chaplain. From that point on, he devoted full-time to his hospital ministry. He was instrumental in helping to establish the St. Francis Food Pantry, Triniteam and The Healing Place: A Center for Life's Journeys.

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed on then-Fr. Klimek the papal honor of "Chaplain to His Holiness," including the title "monsignor" to recognize his dedication to the church.

Eau Claire's Leader-Telegram estimated that 2,000 people waited in line to pay their respects at a visitation in the Fr. Christopher Chapel at Sacred Heart. The chapel where Msgr. Klimek had offered Mass for over four decades and the nearby corridors were lined with roses, his favorite flower. His Sept. 5 funeral Mass at St. James the Greater Parish in Eau Claire was followed by a community reception at Florian Gardens, which named one of its rose gardens in Msgr. Klimek's honor.

Memorial donations can be made to the Msgr. Klimek Healing Presence Endowment Fund at Sacred Heart Hospital, 900 West Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54701. In accordance with Msgr. Klimek's wishes, the fund will be used to enhance the spiritual experience of Sacred Heart's patients and their families and to encourage the spiritual enrichment of staff.

Msgr. Klimek is survived by his brother and sister-in-law Joseph and Dorothy Klimek and sister Rose Pierzina, along with many nieces and nephews.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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