Bobka is thankful for her transition to spiritual care ministry

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | November 30, 2021

Spiritual Skills 1 course offered in January through St. Norbert College

ALLOUEZ — Thanks to the Spiritual Skills courses offered in collaboration by St. Norbert College, De Pere, and HSHS St. Vincent Hospital, Green Bay, Bonny Bobka has found the fulfillment in her work that she was seeking.

Since June, Bobka has served as a spiritual care minister at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital and HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Green Bay.

“Our jobs are to minister to the patients. We are assigned floors in the hospital. We check in with all the patients and help them with whatever they are going through by providing spiritual and emotional support,” she said. “We also do a lot of ministry to families of patients, especially if there are traumas, emergencies or end-of-life situations.”

Bobka, a Crandon native, previously worked for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Madison. Her background includes 15 years in social services.

“I was a director (in Madison) for a long-term care program,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to make a change in my career. I had gone as far as I could in that field. It just wasn’t cutting it for me. It wasn’t very fulfilling, my managerial and leadership duties.”

Bobka initially pursued graduate school programs for psychology. She planned on becoming a licensed psychotherapist. She was accepted to programs, but during the process, Bobka said she discovered that it was not the right path.

“I really didn’t like it. I didn’t like the vibe,” she said. “I realized that when I’m going through the hardest things in my life, what is really important to me is that spiritual dimension.

“Chaplaincy came slowly and gradually. It was long discerning,” she added. “What I wanted to do was to be able to have that counseling experience, one-on-one, with people, but to be able to do it through a more spiritual and religious lens.”

Bobka discovered the Spiritual Skills courses when she contacted St. Norbert in November of 2020 about earning a master’s degree to become a chaplain. She started the Spiritual Skills 1 course in January of 2021.

“It’s two courses. You can take it for either undergraduate or graduate credits,” she explained. “A lot of the other students weren’t necessarily pursuing a degree. They were just doing this to develop those skills. It’s half classroom and half clinical work. You learn clinical pastoral education (CPE), specifically geared towards hospital chaplaincy.”

The education in the classroom is applied the next day during clinicals. The courses teach participants how to actively listen, engage in conversation, be neutral, be present to people during tough situations when somebody has died or is in a terminal illness situation, and how to sit with people during those journeys, said Bobka, who completed Spiritual Skills 2 in the summer of 2021.

Bobka and her husband, David, members of Resurrection Parish, Allouez, welcomed the move to Green Bay after 10 years in Madison. They have family in northeast Wisconsin. David is a marketing specialist for the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Green Bay. In addition to her hospital chaplaincy, Bobka continues her course work in the Master of Theological Studies program at St. Norbert.

While serving people in the hospital, most of whom “are miserable,” can be difficult, Bobka finds fulfillment in the connections with the people.  

“To have those really genuine interactions with people is most rewarding,” she said. “People are looking for a neutral party who they can engage with to talk about their beliefs, doubts, hardships, mistakes in their lives, the struggles they’ve had, the relationships they’ve failed at, and to be able to talk to someone about what’s most important to them.”

Many hospitals continue to deal with a shortage of chaplains, including HSHS, which could currently use four more spiritual care ministers, said Bobka.

“Completing the Spiritual Skills courses at St. Norbert will help you get your foot in the door,” she said. “Making a career change is challenging. This went so smoothly and a lot of it was due to the Spiritual Skills classes.”

The next Spiritual Skills 1 course will begin in January. For more information, contact Danielle Wahlen of the Master in Theological Studies Department, St. Norbert College, at [email protected] or (920) 403-3957.

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