by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a moment Earl Hogan won’t soon forget.
“I recently had the opportunity to take Communion to a gentleman who was in an end-of-life situation,” he said. “He was my first patient of the day.
“The moment I walked into the ward, a young RN approached me, explained the situation and asked if I could serve her patient first.”
The registered nurse at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, (KU Med) had summoned Father Dominic Pham, ICM, the hospital’s chaplain, so the patient could also receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
But Hogan had the honor of giving the patient, his wife and three daughters Communion.
“They were extremely grateful,” said Hogan, a volunteer extraordinary minister of holy Communion at KU Med and parishioner at St. Agnes in Roeland Park.
Later that day, Hogan ate lunch with Father Dominic and expressed his thoughts on the situation.
“As Catholics, we pray for a happy death,” he told him, “and I feel certain that was one — receiving the body of Christ, surrounded by your loved ones, and being anointed just before you die. I hope and pray that’s the way I go.”
KU Med currently has 13 openings for the extraordinary minister of holy Communion volunteer position.
The need came about after the hospital stopped allowing volunteers in March 2020 due to COVID-19, said Hillary Podrebarac, volunteer coordinator at KU Med.
“When we were able to reopen August of 2021 to bring volunteers back on board,” she said, “a lot of them had reached the point where they were ready to retire from volunteer work.”
The Communion ministers serve around 150-170 patients each day, typically from 9-11 a.m. Podrebarac hopes to have four volunteers a day.
Volunteers are required to be fully vaccinated and take an annual flu vaccine. They wear medical masks and are provided with eye protection when encountering patients up close.
For Linda Van Nieuwenhuyse, a parishioner at St. Joseph in Shawnee, volunteering in this role for the past decade has been “an honor.”
She heard about the need for volunteers from a friend and decided to join the team when she retired.
Van Nieuwenhuyse experienced firsthand the beauty of the ministry when her husband was in the hospital and received Communion from extraordinary ministers.
“I remember how special that was to us,” she said. “I see patients who feel this same way when they receive holy Communion at KU.”
“There are many very sick people who are worried and afraid,” she continued. “I witness some of their reactions when they receive Our Lord in holy Communion.
“Some patients are so sick, I never know if I am giving them the holy Eucharist for the last time.”
Van Nieuwenhuyse said some patients cry while receiving, and when that happens, sometimes she does, too.
“I would highly recommend volunteering for this ministry,” she said. “The teams at KU help new volunteers with the ministry until they are comfortable to go on their own.”
Father Dominic explained he wouldn’t be able to distribute Communion daily without the help of extraordinary ministers.
He added that Catholics in the hospital need the Eucharist “as a spiritual food in their life” and that offering it daily, as well as anointing of the sick and confession, is critical for those near death.
“These sacraments confer a special grace,” he said, “which unites the sick person more intimately to the passion of Christ for his good and for the good of all the church.
“It gives comfort, peace, courage and even forgiveness of sins.”
For Hogan, who was inspired to volunteer at KU Med after having a positive experience there as a patient, the opportunity has been enriching.
“I consider myself as the carrier for Christ,” he said, “bringing him to people who want to receive him.
“Nearly all of the patients for whom I take the holy Eucharist are very grateful. I feel equally blessed in being able to serve them.”
Podrebarac stressed the importance of this ministry at KU Med.
“As a Catholic myself,” she said, “I think there’s no greater comfort during potentially a very scary time in your life [than] to be able to receive the Eucharist.
“It’s such a great comfort to our patients.”
If you’re interested in volunteering as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at KU Med, contact Podrebarac by email at: email@example.com or call (913) 945-6720.
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