OSF Saint Francis will now offer Clinical Pastoral Education

Photo Caption: The Rev. Vernon McNear is the supervisor of the new Clinical Pastoral Education Program set to begin with a summer session at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

By: By Tom Dermody

Do you have a personal desire or a professional need to learn “the art and heart of caring?”

OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria has announced the creation of a Clinical Pastoral Education Program (CPE), an interfaith professional education for ministry open to area clergy and religious as well as qualified laypersons.

“It has been a dream for more than 20 years to have our own program here at Saint Francis and we finally have one,” said Msgr. Michael Bliss, chaplain and director of pastoral care at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. He said the experience will combine formal classroom lessons with a supervised clinical experience in a medical setting to teach “what good pastoral care looks like and how to offer it.”

The program will begin May 18 with an 11-week, full-time summer session designed especially for seminarians but open to all with the time to commit. Applications are also being accepted for a 30-week, part-time extended session beginning in September. (See registration information below.)

A third type of advanced CPE — a year-long residency program where qualified individuals from throughout the world train to become professional caregivers — is also planned.

Brought in to organize all of this at OSF Saint Francis is the Rev. Vernon McNear, a Quincy native and ordained minister with the Reformed Church in America who is a board certified chaplain long active in clinical pastoral education training and program establishment. Most recently, he opened a program at St. Mary Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia.

“It’s a great privilege to be able to bring back CPE to the Peoria area,” Rev. McNear told The Catholic Post, expressing gratitude to The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis and the Diocese of Peoria for their support.

While Rev. McNear will supervise the program and be the primary faculty person, hospital employees and spiritual care providers will serve as “co-faculty” sharing their expertise and guidance.

He explained that while four, 400-hour units of clinical pastoral education are required to become a professional board certified chaplain, any amount of the training is valuable for those working with people coping with life-changing situations, particularly healthwise.

“Nearly every person who goes through it says it is one of the most important experiences they’ve had in their lives,” said Rev. McNear of the program. Not only does CPE include “on-the-job” training during which students learn the art and skill of emotional and spiritual care, but through peer evaluation and writing it emphasizes learning about themselves and their motivations for being caregivers.

“The only way you’ll ever get to the ‘self’ of the patient is you first have to make the journey into the ‘self’ of the caregiver,, or you won’t do a good job of caring for the other,” said the Rev. McNear. CPE, he added, “teaches them the actual art and heart of caring. You need both.”

Students perform a variety of functions within the health care field — visiting critically ill patients, counseling a family who is grieving, offering perspective in ethical dilemmas as patients and families face difficult decisions, etc. They are also required to respond to the needs of diverse religious groups including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons and others.

But Rev. McNear said it is significant that the experience takes place in a Catholic hospital. Msgr. Bliss and other OSF St. Francis representatives are part of a professional advisory group that will also help guide the students.

Those wishing to learn more about the new Clinical Pastoral Education Program at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria are invited to contact the Rev. Vernon McNear at (309) 655-6470 or by email at vernon.w.mcnear@osfhealthcare.org.

The cost for the 11-week, full-time summer session scheduled to begin on May 18 is $750, plus a $50 application fee.

Applications are also being accepted for a part-time extended session beginning in September.

A general application form is available online at acpe.edu. A booklet describing clinical pastoral education and including an application form is available from Rev. McNear.

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