Jazz Man

Seminarian brings his unique perspective to hospital ministry


by Catherine Rice

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Seminary student Matthew Schiffelbein may be majoring in theology at Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Ill., but thanks to Providence Medical Center here, he’s learning how to apply life’s lessons to his ministry this summer.

A native of Topeka, Schiffelbein is studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and recently was ordained a deacon. He anticipates completing his seminary studies in May 2009 and being ordained a priest for the archdiocese in June. But he’s spent the summer working with the Spiritual Care department at Providence and serving at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan.

Deacon Schiffelbein, who was diagnosed with macular degeneration in the fourth grade and is legally blind, says he has found his experience at the hospital a lesson in humility.

“I visit with the patients several hours each week, talking and praying with them,” he said. “I have been surprised by the wide range of responses people have to illness, and I have had to recognize that I am not here to fix their problems, but to listen to their concerns and support them in their time of need.”

Deacon Schiffelbein finds patients also respond well to his own health concerns.

“I think being blind gives me a greater sense of compassion for others, but it also gives patients hope,” he said. “They see that I have found faith and meaning in my struggle, and they are inspired to find a way to overcome their limitations — to find meaning and purpose in life’s challenges. That kind of witness is very powerful.”

Deacon Schiffelbein did not pursue the priesthood right after college. Before entering the seminary, in fact, he earned a master’s in music in the saxophone from the University of Kansas, specializing in jazz. He has put those skills to good use at Providence, too, playing at the recent rededication of the hospital’s healing waters fountain. He is a 1997 graduate of Seaman High School in Topeka and has played the saxophone since the fifth grade.

“Matthew has been an outstanding addition to our spiritual care staff at Providence,” said George Noonan, vice president of Mission Integration for the hospital. “He brings a unique perspective to his ministry, one I believe our patients appreciate. We have been fortunate to have him with us these past few months.”

“My experience at Providence has been terrific,” said Deacon Schiffelbein. “I have been very impressed with the staff and how much they care. As I talk with patients, they notice that the Providence staff takes its healing mission to heart, and that’s important when you are facing a serious health concern, as many of the patientsI have talked with are.”

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