Nine graduate from community nursing program

Graduates of the Office of Chaplaincy Programs' Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course pose for a photo, July 25, after a graduation and pinning ceremony at the Pastoral Center in Braintree. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo

BRAINTREE -- For nine women who graduated the Office of Chaplaincy Programs' new Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course, July 25, the graduation ceremony at the pastoral center brought the opportunity to serve their communities in a new way.

Director of Chaplaincy Programs James F. Greer and Karen Wenger, a registered nurse and faith community nurse educator, led prayers at the graduation and pinning ceremony. All nine graduates were registered nurses. Nora Bucko, Elizabeth Davis, Denise Finnegan, Marianne Guerard-Geary, Geraldine Nelson, Judy Riopelle, Susan McCready, Rosemary Miller, and Beatrice Nazzaro received certificates and a pin with values related to the course on it "Health, Healing, Mind, Body, Soul."

Faith community nursing is a concept recognized by the American Nursing Association, which focuses on helping faith community members with health education, self-care, spiritual care, ethical issues, coping with grief, and other health related issues. Wenger said this type of nursing focuses on integrating faith and health. Faith community nurses (FCNs), or parish nurses, do not perform traditional nursing duties. Instead the ministry focuses on education of those in need of care.

"We're not doing medical stuff in the churches. It's really more a health promotion, spiritual care, presence type of ministry," Wenger said.

The idea behind community nursing developed in the 1980s based on the work of the Lutheran chaplain Granger E. Westberg in the 1950s and 1960s. The chaplain had attempted to integrate the care of the physical needs and spiritual needs of patients with nurses providing the bridge. His group of six nurses in Chicago grew into the International Parish Nurse Resource Center.

In the 1990s, Sister Carole Mello, OP, and Wendy Merriman, a registered nurse, worked with a chaplain in Fall River to get a grant and started a parish nursing ministry in the area. In 2001, St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River started teaching the course and Wenger took the class in 2004. Greer heard about the course around that time and moved to integrate it through the Office of Chaplaincy Programs as the Archdiocese of Boston began to implement the pastoral plan "Disciples in Mission."

Wenger said the Office of Chaplaincy programs hoped to have at least one nurse per collaborative to minister to parishioners. She said the FNCs work on a volunteer basis until funding becomes available and the communities work out compensation details. She said since each collaborative is unique, the nursing program must be unique in order to meet the specific needs of the parishioners. For example, in a parish with a high population of young families, health promotion efforts would focus more on young families, where in a parish of older adults, the efforts would be presented in a manner directed toward elders.

The course met for full-day classes from May until July, with educators and instructors using the Foundations of Faith Community Nursing Curriculum based on a curriculum developed through the International Parish Nurse Resource Center owned by Church Health Center of Memphis, Tennessee. Funding for the office to implement the course came from a grant and those who took the course paid $400.

As new laws impact the way healthcare works going forward, FNCs can assist parishioners in navigating the complexities of the system according to one of the graduates.

"I think this is very exciting because healthcare has changed. It's very complex. I think we have an opportunity to help people going through the maze of a complex system," said Elizabeth Davis, a registered nurse from St. Mary and St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown.

Davis said she thinks preventive healthcare, patient education, and palliative care will become a focus of patient needs in the future and working as networks of parish nurses could help bolster the resources available where these health tools are needed.

"I think it's exciting to be on the ground floor developing something, and I think we cannot work in isolation. If every church in the archdiocese had a faith community nurse, look what we could do with healthcare. We could change healthcare, and we could change policy. I think we are the people to do it, but we need the support of each other," she said. "I think this could be the beginning of something great."

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