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Stephen Ministry helps the hurting, grieving

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Dialog reporter

Group at Holy Rosary assists those dealing with crisis, hopes to see ministry expand to other parishes

 

CLAYMONT — When people are in need of an ear to bend, a group of lay ministers at Holy Rosary Parish in Claymont is there. They are members of the parish’s Stephen Ministry, trained caregivers who can assist anyone in physical or emotional distress.

“If someone in the parish knows someone who lost a loved one, or lost a home or something and they’re going through the grieving process,” they can request assistance. “They have to want us to come. We spend time each week with them and listen to them and help them get through the process,” said Helen Young, one of the leaders of the Stephen Ministry.

The ministry took root at the parish four years ago, when the pastor, Father John Gayton, and Sister Catherine Pisarczyk, the former longtime director of pastoral ministry, were searching for ways to expand Holy Rosary’s offerings. The pair recruited a small group to be leaders.

The Dialog/Mike LangMembers of the Stephen Ministry at Holy Rosary include Don Legg, Mary Finocchiaro and Judi Casper, (front row, from left) and Rose Legg, Helen Young, Dorothy Russell and Mary Gallagher (back row, from left).
Members of the Stephen Ministry at Holy Rosary include Don Legg, Mary Finocchiaro and Judi Casper, (front row, from left) and Rose Legg, Helen Young, Dorothy Russell and Mary Gallagher (back row, from left). (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

Rose and Don Legg had 14 years of experience in hospice care. Rose Legg said she liked the idea of being able to help someone.

“I can go out and listen and help someone that’s going through a divorce or the loss of a child or a husband, anything that’s hard in their life, they would know that they have someone there to support them and listen. It’s just a great honor,” she said.

Don Legg is the only man in the group, which limits the outreach to men since they work with people of the same gender. He said the key is to try to understand what that person is experiencing and “help them find God through you. The main thing is to let them talk.”

Stephen Ministry was founded by a Presbyterian minister in 1975 in St. Louis. It is named after St. Stephen, who is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as one of the seven deacons appointed to distribute aid to the poor. It is now in more than 12,000 congregations – including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bear – and more than 600,000 people have been trained as caregivers.

Stephen Ministers receive approximately 50 hours of training in one-on-one care. According to the Holy Rosary website, the pastor will always be “on the front lines of care,” but as the volunteers noted, Father Gayton and Father Leonard Kempski, a retired diocesan priest who lives at the parish, can only do so much.

Confidentiality is paramount. The ministers don’t talk about the people they see, even with each other.

“We wouldn’t even tell you if I was talking to your mom. If you came and asked questions, we wouldn’t even acknowledge that I go visit your mother,” Young said.

Going on that journey with a person benefits more than the care receiver, according to Mary Finocchiaro, one of the leaders. She recalled something that happened with a lady with whom she worked.

“I found that I got just as much out of visiting her as she got with me because her faith was what led her and kept her going,” Finocchiaro said. “She just loved our Lord so much, and she’s cancer-free right now.

“When someone has so much joy in God even when they’re going through such a sad experience, I just find that God works in both of us while we’re there.”

The ministers do the listening, but they do not offer recommendations on what their care receivers should do. There is a process through which other resources can be explained, but they note that they are not doctors or psychologists.

Their biggest attribute is the gift of “reflective listening, so that you’re not thinking of yourself. You’re thinking of the person and trying to understand what it is they’re having a problem with,” said Dorothy Russell, one of the leaders.

Judi Casper, who joined the ministry after coming to Holy Rosary and seeing a notice in the bulletin, said they don’t offer cures.

“We always say that Jesus is the care curer, not us. The main thing for us is listening,” she said.

They could use more volunteers, Finocchiaro said. She would like to see the program expand to more Catholic parishes in the diocese.

“There’s so much need right now. They need somebody to walk that walk with them and listen to them,” she said.

Russell said if more parishes had laypeople offering this service, it would lessen the burden on priests, many of whom are by themselves in parishes. Many Catholics, she said, automatically go to their priests when they need this type of assistance.

“They want the priest,” Rose Legg said. “They don’t want to talk to a lay person. And we think that is what is blocking us from blooming.”

 

Parishes interested in establishing a Stephen Ministry or those who would like the service of a Stephen minister should call Holy Rosary at (302) 798-2904.