New courses offered for those who seek to provide spiritual care

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | December 2, 2020

New chaplains are needed to address the current shortage

ALLOUEZ — St. Norbert College, De Pere, and HSHS St. Vincent Hospital, Green Bay, are collaborating to offer spiritual care courses beginning in January 2021. Spiritual Skills 1 will run through May, followed by Spiritual Skills 2 over the summer months. The courses are available for undergraduate or graduate credit.

Mary Salm, director of spiritual care, mission and ethics for HSHS Wisconsin and adjunct faculty member at St. Norbert College, hopes the courses will provide training to help offset a critical shortage of chaplains.

Mary Salm

“There is a shortage, especially within the Catholic tradition for people,” she said. “They don’t know oftentimes that this is a career opportunity. It’s one of our best kept secrets. This is a profession in crisis. We need to be able to sustain this ministry. It’s who we are, as Catholic health care.

“The other piece that you look at in our career is that the average age in the chaplain field right now is about 64, so we are truly looking at the need,” she added.

For many chaplains, the ministry is a second or third career. Salm’s goal is to increase awareness that it can also be a first career option.

“It can be somebody in college right now,” she said. “It can be somebody who has been in parish ministry and is now looking to expand to a health care setting. You have chaplains in the health care settings, in long-term care settings. You have business chaplains, police and fire chaplains.

“It could be someone who is looking to retire from their health care career and now wants to give back in some kind of ministerial position,” added Salm, who will be teaching both courses. “It could be a nursing student or physician resident looking to enhance their skills.”

The Spiritual Skills 1 course will alternate a Saturday of instruction at St. Vincent Hospital followed by a Saturday of clinicals with patients and families where the instruction is put into practice.

“They also have the opportunity to be on call with one of our chaplains,” said Salm. “In the event there is an emergency when one of our chaplains is called in, they will have that opportunity to come on in and work side by side and get that experience of working in crisis as well.”

The program was piloted last year through Holy Family College, Manitowoc.

“We had many people from the diaconate program,” said Salm. “Some had been in the diaconate for many years, while others were going through (formation). Every one of the students, when we piloted the program, said that it changed their ministry.”

Through collaboration with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC), students who complete both spiritual care courses will receive a certificate of clinical pastoral education (CPE) to use if they wish to continue CPE studies.

“Currently, you have two levels of certification. The first is an associate level, which requires a bachelor’s (degree) plus 36 hours of master’s credits and 1,000 hours of ministry experience and then two units of CPE,” explained Salm. “This would be one of the two.”

The second level is chaplain, which requires four units of CPE and a master’s degree.

“For the longest time, you clearly only had one career path and that was going through CPE master’s,” said Salm. “That was it. To be able to create this alternative option for people to have the skill and experience, and to have your professional organization, the NACC, support it is pretty important.”

Salm, a first-career chaplain, is in her 36th year of the ministry. She is thankful for the opportunity to give back to the spiritual care students.

“It’s great to see the growth and development and to see God working in their lives,” she said. “Through God, they are touching the lives of our patients.”

To register for the spiritual care courses or for more information, contact Danielle Wahlen, office special, interdisciplinary graduate programs, St. Norbert College, Master in Theological Studies Department, at (920) 403-3957 or [email protected].

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