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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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Catherine of Siena: The value Catherine makes central in her short life and which sounds clearly and consistently through her experience is complete surrender to Christ. What is most impressive about her is that she learns to view her surrender to her Lord as a goal to be reached through time. 
<p>She was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa and grew up as an intelligent, cheerful and intensely religious person. Catherine disappointed her mother by cutting off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation. </p><p>She entered the Dominican Third Order at 18 and spent the next three years in seclusion, prayer and austerity. Gradually a group of followers gathered around her—men and women, priests and religious. An active public apostolate grew out of her contemplative life. Her letters, mostly for spiritual instruction and encouragement of her followers, began to take more and more note of public affairs. Opposition and slander resulted from her mixing fearlessly with the world and speaking with the candor and authority of one completely committed to Christ. She was cleared of all charges at the Dominican General Chapter of 1374. </p><p>Her public influence reached great heights because of her evident holiness, her membership in the Dominican Third Order, and the deep impression she made on the pope. She worked tirelessly for the crusade against the Turks and for peace between Florence and the pope </p><p>In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. She died surrounded by her "children" and was canonized in 1461. </p><p>Catherine ranks high among the mystics and spiritual writers of the Church. In 1939, she and Francis of Assisi were declared co-patrons of Italy. Paul VI named her and Teresa of Avila doctors of the Church in 1970. Her spiritual testament is found in <i>The Dialogue</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The gates of hell cannot withstand the power of heaven. Gates of sin melt in the presence of saving grace; gates of death fall in the presence of eternal life; gates of falsehood collapse in the presence of living truth; gates of violence are flattened in the presence of divine love. These are the tools with which Christ has equipped his Church.

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