Catholic health care at a pivotal moment: Bishop Jenky

By: By Jennifer Willems

CAPTION: Msgr. Mark Merdian and Erica Laethem, keynote speakers at the Diocesan Health Care Conference on Oct. 7, speak with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, during a break. The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems


Many are trying to push the Catholic Church out of health care and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, recently pondered aloud what would happen if they succeeded.

“Catholic health care provides some of the best health care in this country. One out of six are treated in a Roman Catholic facility,” he said during his keynote address at the annual Diocesan Health Care Conference on Oct. 7.

“We can do things the secular institutions can’t, even humanely, because we do bring faith, we do bring that familial life of the church, we do bring that tenderness and care that comes from Gospel values,” he told the 88 health care providers, chaplains and pastoral care workers who attended the conference at the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. The event was sponsored by the Diocesan Health Care Committee.

Calling this a pivotal moment, Bishop Jenky said it is important for those involved in Catholic health care to go back to the basics and remember what their ministry is all about.

“We have to do a better job of forming the laity — from the doctors to the people who deliver the trays to the people who cut the grass — so that they are formed in a sense of Gospel mission,” he said in his presentation, “Ecclesial Dimensions of Catholic Health Care: Strengthening Our Bonds.”

He added that having a “critical mass of believing Catholics” involved in leadership of Catholic health care facilities is vital. Bishop Jenky warned that if some of these key people aren’t “close to the steering wheel,” the secular culture will win out.

Praising them for striving “so hard to be so good” at healing, he emphasized that it is also important for them to witness to Christ through their words and actions and to introduce people to Jesus when the “teaching moment” presents itself.

“In these complicated days, the means and style may change — will change — in Catholic health care but the mission should stay the same,” Bishop Jenky said, defining that as “bringing the greatest Healer who ever is or was or will be, the Lord Jesus Christ, to your ministry in union and communion with the church.”

“That reality should never change,” he said.

In the talk that followed, Erica Laethem reminded those present that “we are the church. We’re not acting with the church, we are the church.”
She cautioned people not to use that information to become “siloed” within their communities, however.

“We have to be careful not to compartmentalize too much, but to be in dialogue and connection with the rest of the church,” said Laethem, who has been serving as director of clinical ethics for Presence Health since 2011 and is transitioning to a new role as regional director of ethics for OSF HealthCare in Rockford. “We are the church, but we’re not the only aspect of the church in the world.”

She pointed to Pope Francis as someone who fosters a “culture of encounter,” starting with a personal encounter with the love of God. Only then can they take that love out to others, especially the poor and the vulnerable.

“The poor and the vulnerable have something to teach us,” Laethem said.
“Not only do we have something to offer them, but we have to allow ourselves to be transformed by that encounter and what they can bring us, as well.”

Msgr. Mark Merdian, episcopal vicar for health care for the Diocese of Peoria and pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, said the day provided an opportunity for people not only to network, but to talk about what is going on in their facilities and build up health care ministry within the diocese and their health care institutions.

The group also had an opportunity to learn about and tour the new Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center.

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