Faith Community Nurses not only educate and screen, they pray

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By: By Jennifer Willems

CAPTION: Charlotte Harrison smiles as her new friend, Peggy Jacques — a Faith Community Nurse — takes her blood pressure at Sophia’s Kitchen in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)


It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a feast, so Sophia’s Kitchen in Peoria hosted a turkey dinner with all the trimmings on Nov. 19 for the people who come for sack lunches five days a week. While it wasn’t on the menu, they also got a heaping dose of care mixed with prayer from Faith Community Nurse Peggy Jacques.

Offered by OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, the Faith Community Nurse program is designed to fill the gap between the hospital and the doctor’s office by providing basic health screenings, offering education and getting people connected to the assistance they need.

“The other thing is we get to pray with people,” said Jacques, who has been part of the program since March and has worked with the four parishes in the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community since October. “That’s the best part about Faith Community Nursing.”

She said many times people are scared or stressed and may not want to pray right away. Once their health concerns are addressed and they feel they’re being heard, however, they become open to it.

One of the people who has experienced that physical and spiritual care is Charlotte Harrison, who came to Sophia’s Kitchen for lunch and a blood pressure screening on Nov. 19.

“She’s a rare blessing because she prayed for me,” Harrison said of Jacques. “She’s my friend.”

Going back to their roots, The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, who own and operate OSF Healthcare System, sent nurses into the Peoria neighborhoods covered by the 61605 and 61603 zip codes to talk to people and survey the needs. The 61605 zip code is the fifth poorest in Illinois, while the 61603 zip code is the 12th poorest.

Jacques is the third nurse hired for the program and works with the Catholic parishes in the city. To help get the program started in the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community, she visits St. Bernard on the first Sunday of the month, St. Joseph on the second Saturday, Sacred Heart on the third Sunday, and St. Mary’s Cathedral on the fourth Sunday.

She’s at Sophia’s Kitchen, which is based in the parish hall of St. Joseph Church, every Thursday.

“The need is overwhelming,” said Msgr. Stanley Deptula, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral and pastor of the four parishes.

“It’s an important ministry — the way people open up to her, the way she’s helped people,” he told The Catholic Post. “I think she’s saved lives, just by getting their diabetes under control or getting their blood pressure checked. What a powerful ministry.”

“The main goal is just to be available,” Jacques said. “A lot of times I’m monitoring their blood pressure. People haven’t been to the doctor, so I’m making sure they have the proper medical card and helping them make appointments.”

That’s vital because many of the people she sees at Sophia’s Kitchen, for example, have dangerously high blood pressure. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken blood pressures like this,” she said.

People often allow their medication to expire or know high blood pressure runs in the family and don’t want to deal with it, she explained. Others have to make tough choices about how to spend their limited incomes.

“We do a lot of education — simple things they can do, like cut down on their salt, stop smoking or cut back a tiny little bit, and get more activity. It depends on the person,” Jacques said.

That’s much easier to do when people have a spiritual foundation, she said, because they realize they’re important enough to take care of themselves.
“It comes across differently when you can say, ‘You’re worthy. You’re a child of God and God has a plan and a purpose for you,'” said Jacques, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

When talking about Faith Community Nursing and the work Jacques does, Msgr. Deptula puts it simply.

“This is a corporal and spiritual work of mercy,” he said.

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