For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.
On any given day, the smallest, sickest patients at CHOC Children’s Hospital and their worried families are in as desperate need of spiritual comfort as they are physical healing. Parents need a chaplain’s encouraging words, sick children rally with special blessings from Eucharistic ministers, and bereft families need to lean on a wise minister for comfort and guidance.
Thanks to the hard work of its former supervisor and the generous support of its donors, CHOC’s Spiritual Care Department is expanding to accommodate those needs.
Before leaving recently to work in a similar role at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, Norm Jeune served for six years as CHOC’s Spiritual Care director. Jeune partnered with the Orange County faith community and worked tirelessly to expand volunteer ministry hours and grow the department’s staff and responsibilities.
From his years at CHOC, Jeune knew that patients and their families come from many faith traditions, so he invited Protestant ministers, Islamic clerics, Mormon leaders, Jehovah’s Witness ministers and a Jewish rabbi to join the department’s outreach efforts.
“Norm raised awareness at CHOC of the importance of treating the whole person – body, mind and soul – to promote the healing process,” explains Byzantine Catholic Father James Barrand, recently hired as CHOC’s first full-time priest. “He found private donations to fund the expanding Catholic and Protestant ministries.”
Under Jeune’s watch, the department has grown to offer Mass seven days a week. Volunteers, including deacons and Eucharistic ministers, visit Catholic patients every day. And ministers of other faiths are available to the families who need them.
“Parents whose children are in the hospital are frantic with worry and beside themselves,” Father James says. “We can be there to lift their spirits, encourage them and carry their burden with them so that they are not alone.”
CHOC has grown into a large secular hospital, though its roots are in the Catholic Church, he notes. “Many of our medical professionals – doctors, nurses, social workers and pharmacists – are people of faith, who see their gifts and talents coming as gifts from God, ones that they have had to work diligently to perfect,” he explains. “They recognize that they have the privilege of continuing the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to their patients, and we are providing this opportunity for them to offer their thanksgiving to God and to ask the blessing of the bishop on their important work.”
On Sept. 26, the feast day of Saints Cosmos and Damian – Christian brothers skilled in medicine and who treated the poor and never took money for their services – Bishop Kevin Vann offered a White Mass at CHOC for physicians, nurses and the medical staff. The saints, who died as martyrs in Syria around 300 A.D., are the patrons of surgeons, physicians, dentists, barbers, pharmacists and veterinarians.
White Masses are termed ‘white’ in recognition of the white coats health care workers wear. Other traditional colored Masses include the Red Mass held at the beginning of the judicial year for judges, attorneys and law school professors, and the Blue Mass, held to honor police officers, firefighters and first responders.
“We want to show the doctors, nurses and the health care staff how much we appreciate them using the gifts God has given them to help our children and families,” Father James says. “God is there to strengthen them in their work as they spread the love of God to everyone.”
About 50 health care workers from inside and outside CHOC attended the White Mass, including Carol Cox, a retired CHOC ICU nurse who volunteers once a week as a Eucharistic minister and helps out regularly in the ICU, and Chaplain Rick Majewski, a Catholic who is in his fifth year of service at CHOC.
The White Mass was significant to Bishop Vann himself, since he wore a white coat when he worked for three years as a medical technologist at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois before entering the priesthood.
In his homily, Bishop Vann recalled visiting the Basilica of Saints Cosmos and Damian in Rome when he was studying canon law there in 1981. “Looking out you could see all the ruins of the Forum before you,” he remembered, noting that the brother saints are so important in the Church that they are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.
Before concluding, Bishop Vann blessed the hands of the health care workers assembled in the Holmes Towers conference rooms.
“This is a wonderful day to thank you for your service and ask God’s blessing on you,” he says. “I am glad to be here to recognize your involvement in health care at CHOC and to help raise awareness of all that is involved in serving patients and their families.”