"Hello, my name is Sr. Susan."

I think today may have been the first time I've introduced myself to complete strangers as "Sister Susan." On occasion I've had others introduce me that way or address me as Sister, but I'm fairly certain this was a first as far as me using the title to refer to me.

You see, today was my first day of ministry in the pastoral care department of our hospital. After getting a Photo ID, some blood work done to make sure I'm not contagious or overly susceptible to communicable diseases, and a very thorough tour of the hospital (although I'm still sure I'll get lost next Monday), this rookie nun made her first visit to a patient.

Knock on the door.... "Hello, my name is Sr. Susan from the Pastoral Care department. Are you [patient name]?" You can imagine the rest of the conversation.

It was a good afternoon. I felt surprisingly comfortable in the role, although I know it will be challenging. I spent a great deal of time in hospitals when my parental units were sick, and one thing I think I learned is that there is no right thing to say, no magic wand to make it all better. All you can do is reach out as a human being to another human being and be a presence in a time of need.

What did surprise me was that it also felt surprisingly comfortable to be introducing myself as Sister - 3 months into this gig. I think that is in part a byproduct of doing my Novitiate on the East Coast. Catholic Culture is much more prevalent here, especially the traditional variety. Being "Sister" means something here it doesn't mean out west, where the unchurched outnumber the churched. As long time readers of the blog know, I was not too keen on being called "Sister." My reasons were many and varied, although at the moment I'll admit to mixed feelings on the issue. It does have a time and a place. I know that if I had introduced myself simply as "Susan from the Pastoral Care department," I would not have felt as confident. After all, I do not have training or schooling in pastoral care. But I am a Sister, and that gives me some sort of authentic reason to be visiting the patient. And as for the patient, it seemed like being "Sr. Susan" gave us a starting place, a connection from which to begin our short visit.

Hmmm.... my thoughts are not that well formed on this issue. It's a developing theme. I'll probably write more about it some other day. But for now early to bed! We head off to our classes in the morning.

Peace my bloggy friends,
Sr. Susan


Anonymous said...

I'll be praying for you as you begin this new ministry! My family members have always been so happy when the hospital Sisters have visited them - it is such a comfort, and different from family. I don't quite know how to describe what I mean.

I imagine what you felt when calling yourself Sr. Susan was similar to when I first introduced myself using my married last name. It was odd to hear and to say, but it just felt right :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's really interesting that they let you go in and talk to people in a hospital.
I know people usually have to do CPE to do that.
I guess the sister title got you in.
I pray that God does give you gifts to do that because the name sister carries tremendous responsibility. People assume you have the theological education to back it and don't realize many sisters don't have theological educations. I know many older people would rather have a sister with no CPE training than a lay person with CPE training because of title alone basically. Not sure I understand that. A lay person can be holy too! The don't realize anything other than a title. That's scary.
CPE is so important because people are in such vulnerable places in hospitals.
I do wish you the best! You're heart is in the right place.

~pen~ said...

susan, that is wonderful - i think it will be one of the most fulfilling "assignments" you will be given, especially since it is admittedly stretching you.

this post made me smile - i've thought of you as "sister" for a long time now :)

thread jack: is that "jenn" of "wayward Catholic" fame above me? if so -- Jenn!! where'd'ya go??


Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Thanks guy, and not to worry. I shadowed the pastoral care coordinator for most of my time there and she'll be working with me as I try on this role over the next 9 months. Most novices (men and women) do ministry similar to this. CPE or no, as religious we will be asked to be with people during their vulnerable times. This gives us some experience with that.

Anonymous said...

I could resonate with your experiences, Sister Susan, and remember what it was like at age 18 to have a habit and a title and the expectation from people that I would have all the answers to life's problems. As you mentioned, being an introvert, I found having the religious persona a big help in engaging people initially. It wonderful that with one word like "Sister" your whole reason and purpose for being in a patient's room can be communicated. Many blessings on your new ministry and I look forward to futher reflections.


Anonymous said...

If I get sick, I'll know where to go for good company.

Bon chance!


Anonymous said...

As a health care worker who sees many patients suffer the awkwardness of not being able to say 'no' to pastoral care visits because the person is a sister, I fail to understand why you think it is okay to go into a patient and present yourself as a pastoral care worker when you don't have the professional training to do so. There are many really good pastoral care workers out there who struggle to professionalise their career path because of people like you who think it is 'nice' to be called 'sister' Get some real training before you unleash yourself on these poor vulnerable patients.

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Thanks for your comment most recent anonymous commenter. I appreciate your concerns, especially coming from your perspective as a health care worker.

For what it's worth, I am a pastoral care volunteer. I am under the supervision of the director of the pastoral care department. I mostly bring communion to Catholic patients, although I do also visit with new patients to check in and see if they are interested in pastoral care during their stay. I am grateful for the support and training I am receiving and realize how important this work is. For now this is part of my novitiate training. Trust me, before I ever agreed to do this full time I would certainly enroll in a CPE course.