The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 10, 2001 Issue
Local News

More options offered for chaplaincy students

Extended program allows working students to participate part-time


By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

You feel God is calling you to be a chaplain, but you also feel you can't quit your job to enter training. How do you deal with this dilemma?

It's one many chaplaincy students entering traditional Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) programs face, agreed Sr. Geraldine Krautkramer of Green Bay. However, the Green Bay Diocese now has an alternative, an extended CPE program.

Students participate, part-time, to complete the required 400 hours training for each unit over several months' time, rather than in a three-month period as they would in a full-time program. That allows them to continue working part-time.

Sr. Krautkramer said the extended program usually runs from September to April, but earlier this year the five students tried meeting from February to June or for about 23 hours per week. These hours included eight of classes and discussion and 15 of clinical experiences in a hospital, nursing home or hospice program.

The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education determines how CPE courses are taught nationally. National chaplaincy organizations require chaplains to complete four CPE units for certification.

Three of the five students in the February to June program were in the first CPE unit. The other two - Bill Serdahely and Lenore Domers-Merrill - are in the third unit. They want to complete the requirements for certification. Domers-Merrill belongs to St. Pius X Parish, Appleton; Serdahely belongs to Appleton's Unitarian Church. Both are already working as chaplains.

Experiencing God

Sr. Krautkramer defines a chaplain as "a skilled person who is able to facilitate for another person the experience of God's presence, love and power." That person has "the ability to know when and how to facilitate this experience through sacrament, word and prayer and through the gift of relationship and personhood."

In the past, she said, chaplains have mostly been seminarians, ordained clergy and members of religious orders, but now they are increasingly lay person. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and other agencies.

Sr. Krautkramer and Domers-Merrill said some students going to the first CPE unit do not have definite goals to become chaplains.

"A unit is more of a learning about one's self," Domers-Merrill said. "A student looks to him or herself and asks, 'What am I doing? What am I? Where am I? What is my spirituality? How do I relate to others?' "

The three first-unit students concurred. They are Denise Flynn of Holy Family Parish in Marinette, Joanne Ehrhardt of St. Jude Parish, Green Bay, and Molly McGinnis of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, also in Green Bay.

Flynn, who has a nursing background, said she is "listening to God's leading." She thought she might use her chaplaincy training at the parish level.

McGinnis said she believes God is calling her to "a different type of ministry" than the job she has at Humana processing medical plans. There is "something more inside, something deeper of love," she said.

She said she has felt that call for a long time. "This is where God wants me, in this ministry, in a pastoral role, in some type of service to others."

The eight hours of class were held each Tuesday at St. Francis Convent at Bay Settlement. Sr. Krautkramer and others taught seminars and the students discussed their clinical experiences and received feedback.

No names used

Sr. Krautkramer explained that although they were discussing actual cases, no patients' names were used. Strict confidentiality was observed.

Clinicals were served at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, Theda Clark Hospital in Neenah, St. Paul's Home in Kaukauna and with ThedaCare Hospice based in Appleton.

Sr. Krautkramer said the students scheduled the hours they worked with their CPE supervisors at each facility and that each student was given a variety of patients and range of experiences.

Flynn and Ehrhardt said they worked in all departments at St. Vincent and St. Mary's Hospitals - rehabilitation, obstetrics, intensive care, surgery and emergency - with patients, their families and staff. Ehrhardt said they "bridged the gap between patients and their pastors."

With the help of staff, they learned to be part of an interdisciplinary team. They had to document their work like regular chaplains do, the students said.

Domers-Merrill and Sr. Krautkramer noted that each videotaped a memorial service prepared and conducted for patients they had lost. These were critiqued during the Tuesday meetings.

McGinnis said her clinical was especially memorable because she worked on the 18-bed Alzheimer's unit at St. Paul's Home. It was a great challenge, she said, because the residents lived "in the past and the present. They had no future."

Center of their lives

She learned that "their religion is the center of their lives. No matter how confused they are, they still seem to hold on to that, to their faith in God, their religion and their prayers. God is still at the very center of their hearts. No matter how confused they are, they still long for the spiritual."

Besides classroom studies and clinicals, the students had outside reading. Some found they had difficulties balancing the program with work, family and time for themselves, but felt the experience was worthwhile.

As McGinnis said, "It has been an enormous growth experience in areas of providing comfort, a listening ear, prayer and sacraments for those in need."

More information on the Green Bay/Fox Valley CPE program is available from Sr. Krautkramer at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, 2771 Oakwood Dr., Green Bay 54304. Her e-mail is [email protected]; her phone is (920) 499-1546.



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