by Colleen Gnyp

Being sick and in the hospital can be a worrisome and sometimes unnerving experience. When our health is altered, or a close friend or family member is ill, we feel vulnerable. Having someone to speak to or receiving the simple gesture of a comforting tap on the shoulder can help us cope.

Connie Lachapelle, Spiritual Care Manager at St. Paul's Hospital

Connie Lachapelle, Spiritual Care Manager at St. Paul’s Hospital.
Photo by Electric Umbrella

At St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, complete care for a patient – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – dates back to the leadership of the Grey Nuns, who founded the Hospital in 1907. Spiritual care has always been part of the Hospital’s holistic approach to healing.

Connie Lachapelle, Manager of Spiritual Care Services is one of the staff members who assist patients and their families from all faiths and backgrounds with their spiritual care needs.

“What we do is listen to the stories and focus on the people,” she says. “It is a ministry of presence. We build relationships, so a person knows they are not alone, that someone is prepared to be with them and provide comfort during the changes to their health. ”

Though Lachapelle has an office at St. Paul’s, she spends most of her time making rounds on the wards, with the bulk of her work on Palliative Care. Every patient admitted for an extended period of time will receive at least one visit from Lachapelle or her team members. She divides her attention between these visits and calls to attend to the bedside of patients who are critically ill. The Spiritual Care team carry pagers for quick response to patient and family needs.

“We usually see patients or families in crisis,” says Lachapelle. “Whether it is helping someone cope with illness, a family struggling to make decisions for a loved one’s care or assisting family members to make arrangements for a funeral, I am there as a spiritual resource. My role is to listen with compassion and give hope, but not false hope, during their journey at the Hospital.”

This journey to healing often involves the help of other members from St. Paul’s Hospital staff, generally nurses and social workers. Lachapelle also works closely with members of the community including clergy of various faiths and numerous dedicated Hospital volunteers. Spiritual Care Services can help arrange a visit from a patient’s Chaplain, spiritual leader or First Nations and Métis Elder. Upon request, they make available Confession, Communion, and the Sacrament of the Sick (anointing) and provide families with a copy of the New Testament scripture and Psalms.

St. Paul’s Hospital welcomes patients and families of all faiths, and has several sacred places to seek spiritual strength, including a Chapel, First Nations Prayer and Ceremonial Room and a Multi‐faith Stillness Room.

Lachapelle often finds people in need of support in the most casual of places such as waiting rooms, hallways, and stairwells. It is common for staff to seek her guidance on crisis in relationships, finances and professional developments. Remembering the numerous details and taking care to follow up at a later date is a testament to Lachapelle’s dedication, professionalism, and confidentiality, practiced over more than 27 years working at St. Paul’s.

For patient Leigh Tupper, and his wife, Hope, St. Paul’s Hospital offered a spiritual openness beyond anything they had experienced before in a hospital.

“As Christians, we often would be praying when doctors, nurses, and staff would walk into Leigh’s room, particularly in his final days,” says Tupper. “They would respectfully wait until we completed praying before speaking with us.”

The spiritual journey Lachapelle makes with patients and families often extends past their stay at the hospital. She places calls to follow‐up with bereaved spouses or family members. Her team arranges regular Memorial Services for relatives and friends of those who have passed away at St. Paul’s. These interdenominational prayer services are held on a Saturday every other month.

“My family thought it was a beautiful service,” says Tupper. “We loved the very strong spiritual content, the selection of music and the opportunity to bring in photos of Leigh. I especially like the respectful pause they allowed after reading out the names of loved ones.”

“Grief is different for everyone and some family members need to attend several services,” Lachapelle says. “After so many years of providing support, I have learned when to be around and when to leave.

You just get this sense, a feeling.”

Lachapelle’s experiences dealing with deaths in her family put her on the path of spiritual care. She completed clinical pastoral training at St. Paul’s and in 1993 assumed the management of the department of Spiritual Care Services.

“When the Grey Nun who managed the department left, I assumed her position until they could find somebody to replace her. That day didn’t come. At that time, not many laypeople were in pastoral care as the nuns provided this service.”

St. Paul’s Hospital has been leading Spiritual Care in the Saskatoon Health Region since 2000, and has been offering nationally accredited programs in Clinical Pastoral Education since 1992. Lachapelle supervises the clinical practice on the wards and is a member of the classroom instruction team.

Each day brings new challenges but also new opportunities to help. Lachapelle’s says her days can be intense and emotionally draining but always rewarding.

“Some of the families I meet take a bit of my heart with them when they walk out of the door,” she says.

“I am grateful to have had the gift of doing this job.”

The Saskatoon Health Region’s Spiritual Care program assists hospital patients and families of all faiths and backgrounds with their spiritual needs.