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The Importance of Parish Nurses View Comments

Sister Karen Zielinski, OSF


Many churches and faith-based institutions are offering their members help to keep their bodies in shape with spiritual guidance. In a program called “Light Weigh” at St. Joseph Parish in Sylvania, Ohio, people are looking at food and their eating patterns with a spiritual attitude.

Laurie Neary, RN, of the St. Joseph Parish Nurse Program, hosted this faith-based weight-control program for parishioners several years ago. Light Weigh is a Scriptureand faith-based program to lose weight. It is just one of the ways Neary helps parishioners with their minds and spirits—as well as their bodies.

She and other parish nurses give witness to the healing mission of Jesus to individuals, families, and the community. Their work is rooted in the deep religious belief of the Catholic Church.

Parish nursing programs across the country advocate a holistic understanding of health—that physical wellness is connected with spiritual and emotional well-being. These programs also stress that faith communities should serve one another by providing access to a health ministry in their own parish.

What Does a Parish Nurse Do?

Does your parish have a nurse?

Can you ask your parish board about starting a nurse ministry?

What programs could enhance your spirituality and health?

According to St. Joseph’s website (stjoesylvania.org), parish nurse duties include:

Health educator: promotes an understanding of the relationship among lifestyle, attitudes, faith, and well-being by offering educational programs or information to the parishioners.

Health counselor: discusses health issues and problems with parishioners. Neary also visits parishioners who are homebound or in long-term care facilities. Hospital visitation is currently done by the deacons and priests.

Referral liaison: acts as a liaison to other congregational resources.

Volunteer coordinator: recruits and coordinates volunteers within the congregation.

That’s why Neary offered the 12-week weight-loss program. Taking care of our bodies is a fundamental part of being good stewards of God’s creation—us! She also holds “Lunch and Learn” meetings, where health speakers address a group; helps dispense annual flu shots; holds health fairs; and coordinates an anointing Mass on All Souls’ Day.

Faithful Medicine

We take good care of our cars and our lawns, but we often neglect something more precious, more critical than any vehicle or landscape design: our bodies.

According to Neary, “The role of the parish nurse is to be a health counselor and educator as well as a resource who can help facilitate referrals of resources to parishioners.”

Parish nurses take their ministry seriously. They blend health with spirituality. And that’s faithful medicine!


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Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.

 
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