Local Parishes

Body & soul

Parish health ministry launched in Topeka

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — Sometimes, you don’t find the ministry. It finds you.

So it was with the new nursing ministry at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.

The program, which began in March, came about when members of the parish’s Ministry to the Aging discovered that many people they were seeking to serve needed health as well as spiritual assistance. 

The Ministry to the Aging was already an established part of parish life when Sister Ann Moylan, SCL, become the ministry’s coordinator in 1995.

But when Sister Ann signed on, she brought with her the skills she had learned while on staff at St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Denver, where she’d learn to do blood pressure checks and evaluate common childhood ailments, like chicken pox. 

Sister Ann came to Most Pure Heart in 1978 to be a teacher’s aide in the parish school. After undertaking her new position in 1995, she discovered in time that her knowledge of basic nursing skills could serve the needs of many homebound and hospitalized parishioners.

It started with the Communion calls she made to the homebound. Parishioner Mary Stewart, a nurse, began to accompany her on the visits. Sister Ann would pray with the homebound parishioners and give them Communion, after which Stewart would check the parishioners’ blood pressure and do a quick evaluation. Stewart and Sister Ann would then encourage the parishioners to make a doctor’s appointment if necessary.

Gradually, Sister Ann began to meet other nurses in the parish.

“I met Debbie Haas at the hospital and she was always very helpful with our parishioners,” Sister Ann said.

“Then Pat Gehr offered to help me with some advice. She also helped me get someone to the hospital that needed care,” she continued. “Then Alice Young volunteered to help but wasn’t working as a nurse, and I kept thinking and thinking that I should be using her wonderful talents in the medical area.”

The idea of providing health services — and, indeed, the people with the skills required to provide those services — just kept cropping up.

Sister Ann decided this year it was high time to do something about it. So she enlisted the help of parishioners Young, Haas and Lori Harris to establish the parish’s nursing ministry as part of the Ministry to the Aging.

Now, approximately 30 nurses active in the parish nursing ministry provide basic nursing services to parishioners of all ages: free monthly blood pressure checks after Mass, safety evaluations for the homebound, referrals to other community organizations, and basic education about diabetes, hypertension and other cardiac issues.

The needs of parishioners are great, and the program works to meet as many of them as possible.

“Sister [Ann] and I have talked many, many times about the various nursing needs of parishioners,” Haas said. “This [new nursing ministry] will help address a few of those needs, hopefully — not just to the elderly and homebound parishioners, but parishioners of all ages.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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