Emory Saint Joseph's History: Sisters of Mercy establish pastoral care

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Aug. 21, 2015

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Sister Valentina, current director of Mission Integration

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Mary Beth Spence
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Since its founding in 1880, Saint Joseph's Hospital has welcomed all and provided spiritual ministry for all. Saint Joseph's pastoral care philosophy embraces everyone, from orientation to new employees, to patients and families and staff; pastoral care is an integral, yet intangible, ingredient of the compassionate care provided at the hospital.

In the early days of Saint Joseph's, no formal office of pastoral care existed, as the Sisters of Mercy were so present throughout the hospital that no special department was considered necessary. Sisters worked on each floor of the hospital as lay chaplains, serving patients and their families. This collaboration also extended to close working relationships with doctors and nurses.

Throughout the years as the hospital experienced dynamic growth, so too did pastoral care. After Saint Joseph's move to its current location on Peachtree Dunwoody Road, the pastoral care department was officially established. Sister Rosalie Mallard served as the first director, followed by Sister Mary Brigid Buttimer and then, in 1994, by Sister Valentina Sheridan. These women were influential in shaping the continued growth and professionalization of pastoral care at Saint Joseph's. Sisters from other religious congregations, e.g., Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Grey Nuns, Sisters of Saint Joseph, also served at times as pastoral care chaplains.

The pastoral care department is a respected and key component within the hospital and the community. Chaplains are certified in clinical pastoral education, which means they undergo specialized and lengthy training preparing them to work with people who are sick and with their families. In addition to serving patients directly and collaborating with physicians and nurses, chaplains also often accompany physicians when they inform families about the death of a loved one.

In addition to bedside care, the pastoral care team together with Mission personnel, educates staff and physicians about the Mercy Mission and the traditions of the hospital. The message here is that everyone who works at Saint Joseph's is an extension of the Mercy ministry of the hospital.

"As a pastoral care chaplain, you get to know people on a different level," says Sister Valentina, current director of Mission Integration, about the years she spent comforting patients and families.

Sister Denis Marie Murphy, currently a patient advocate at Saint Joseph's, also served for many years as a pastoral care chaplain. "Through the years, I worked closely with the doctors and nurses, and I have had so many rewarding experiences with the patients and their families. The pastoral care staff is always there to support families and pray with them regardless of their religious affiliation," she says.

The pastoral care chaplains, together with the Sisters, have the highest regard for the value of comprehensive health care, which encompasses the mind, body and spirit, and respect for the dignity of all persons. Saint Joseph's commitment to the spiritual care of all continues every day through the legacy of the pastoral care department.