Br. John Eustice, CSV, will be ordained a transitional deacon June 25 as he continues his journey toward ordination. But earlier this month he completed his unit in clinical pastoral education (CPE), as required by the Viatorian Community, and it was powerful.
Br. Eustice chose to complete his clinical requirement by serving as a chaplain at Riverside Memorial Medical Center in Kankakee, under the Rev. Marsha Collins, director of pastoral care.
His was an extended unit, since he served in the role starting in January, while taking classes at Catholic Theological Union and continuing to lead Vocation Ministry for the Viatorians.
Each week included a nine-hour classroom day, where he learned the principles of medical ethics in the hospital setting, psychological concepts, family systems theories, and faith development models. All of which served as excellent background for his rounds on different floors of the hospital. Those included rounds in the ICU with the entire interdisciplinary team of nurses, doctors, pharmacists and dieticians.
“As I would go from room to room, I learned to ask the patients, ‘How are you feeling,’ rather than ‘How are you doing?’ If they were doing well, they wouldn’t be in the hospital,” Br. Eustice says. “I would let them know that I was part of the medical team that was there on their behalf to talk with, check on, pray with, or be present to. I would often times let them know that I was the one person who wasn’t going to stick them with a needle, take a temperature, or try to make them take any pills.”
Throughout his shifts, he dressed in street clothes, no brothers’ collar, in order to be approachable to both non-Catholics and Catholics. He simply introduced himself as, “John, your chaplain.”
So, what did he learn?
“I learned that I do not have all the answers, nor do I need them. I learned that people, especially when compromised by health, will seek guidance and encounter God for the first time, or re-encounter God with a new set of realities in their lives,” Br. Eustice says. “Sometimes I was expected to offer a prayer at a moment’s notice. Other times I was asked to offer a blessing over the staff. Sometimes it was simply being present to a family as a ventilator was turned off and they waited for their loved one to take their last breath and have the heart beat fade away. Occasionally I would be able to bring Eucharist to Catholic patients and witness how their entire demeanor changed because they received the Body of Christ.”
In the end, Br. Eustice says, the experience gave him the tools to encounter people during the highs and low points of their lives, much like a parish priest.
“I have witnessed patients both survive and die after CPR was administered. I have been with folks in the Emergency Department as their loved ones passed away,” he says. “Ultimately, this experience has helped me to ask Christ to provide me with the right responses to the people of God as they need it.”