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Catholic nurses: ‘This is what we’re called to do’

On the left, Molly Huber, left, and Kit Johnson graduated from Benedictine College’s nursing program in 2015. Huber works at Children’s Mercy and Johnson works at St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City. On the right, Margaret Blevins is a registered nurse at Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka.

by Moira Cullings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Molly Huber and Kit Johnson graduated from the nursing program at Atchison’s Benedictine College in 2015, a priest blessed their hands and feet.

“He told us we are the hands and feet of Christ,” said Huber, a registered nurse at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and parishioner at Curé of Ars in Leawood.

So, when Johnson, a registered nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, found out the floor she works on is now reserved for patients who test positive for coronavirus, she turned to her nursing roots.

“Benedictine’s nursing program is unique in the sense that they always reminded us to care for the holistic person,” she said, “their spiritual health, mental health and physical health.

“And to be Christ’s hands and feet.”

Although the St. Agnes, Roeland Park, parishioner was initially anxious about being on the coronavirus floor, she knows this is where she’s meant to be.

“Our manager reminded our team that this is why we became nurses,” said Johnson. “We became nurses to help people, and this is what we’re doing.

“This is what we’re called to do.”

‘I’m going to war with a good attitude’

The coronavirus pandemic has caused drastic changes for many people’s home and work lives. But perhaps the most affected are health care workers who put their own health on the line to help others.

For Margaret Blevins, working as a registered nurse at Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka for the past 35 years has been a vocation.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.

A parishioner at St. Francis Xavier in Mayetta, Blevins attended the “Enflame Our Hearts: Be Disciples, Make Disciples” convocation last October and has turned to her fellow delegates for support during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Two of the people from Enflame sent me a picture of a nurse with Jesus there [next to her],” said Blevins.

“I envision Jesus standing by that nurse a lot,” she added.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Blevins, who works the night shift with critically ill coronary patients, has seen her work as an opportunity to evangelize, offering to pray for her patients while they are in surgery.

Now during the coronavirus pandemic, Blevins has prayed even more and has made additional sacrifices to distance herself from her loved ones and community.

She hasn’t been able to visit her parents, who are in their 80s, her grandchildren, and her children, two of whom also work in health care, and two of whom are married to someone who works in health care.

“I’ve kept my distance a lot,” she said. “I haven’t gone anywhere but work. I’m staying in a bedroom downstairs.”

When she gets home from work, Blevins enters her home through the basement walkout, leaving her shoes outside, washing her clothes and showering immediately.

She tries to have courage, turning to a verse from the Book of Deuteronomy for comfort and peace.

It reads: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (31:6).

“I still feel like I’m going to war,” said Blevins, “but I’m going to war with a good attitude.”

‘This is why I’m a nurse’

At Children’s Mercy’s Adele Hall Campus where Huber works, nurses park off-site and walk to the hospital. It was on that walkway that Huber, who works on the cardiac floor, recently received a boost of encouragement.

“Someone, it looked like little kids, had made these signs,” she said. “And they lined them up all the way [into the entrance], thanking the nurses.

“When I see that walking into work, it reminds me that this is why I’m a nurse,” added Huber. “This is why I’m still coming to work every day for these kiddos.”

The nursing center at Benedictine is named after Mother Teresa, and the program emphasized the importance of her example, said Huber.

“Benedictine was so good about making sure you know you’re treating a person before you’re treating a sick person or a COVID patient,” she said. “They’re a person first, and that’s who you’re treating.”

Mother Teresa’s lifestyle inspires Huber to find the positives of her work, even during this chaotic time.

“I think a huge sense of fulfillment comes with knowing that we’re still able to go out and do what we feel we’ve been called to do,” she said, “and use the gifts that God’s given us [despite the circumstances].

“We can still go out and help people, not even just physically with their health, but also emotionally, and to help bring that peace to them during a difficult time.”

Huber has received hope from her faith life and watching livestream Masses.

“It’s not just people in the medical field that are going out of their way to help people,” she said. “The priests and whoever’s taking the time to set up the virtual Masses are helping just as much in other ways, for our spiritual health.”

Huber tries not to get caught up in negative news surrounding the pandemic.

“We have to trust in our medical system and trust in God that he’ll help us through this,” said Huber.

“This is why we did become nurses — to help people,” she continued. “You don’t get to pick and choose when is the best time to do that.”

‘Things changed overnight’

News about the coronavirus pandemic has changed rapidly in the past several weeks, and the situation in hospitals continues to develop.

“A few weeks ago, I thought this might’ve been blown out of proportion,” said Johnson, who works in St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. “Then things changed overnight, and I could not believe it.

“I feel like I didn’t have time to process it all.

“Now things change by the hour. We’re constantly getting updates.”

St. Luke’s has had multiple patients test positive for coronavirus, and the situation continues to develop as the weeks go on.

“We will at some point go into crisis mode,” said Johnson. “Soon, all of our patients will be positive for the coronavirus, so [administration] is basically preparing us for the worst.”

Johnson is working on “decompressing at home and not thinking about it when I come home,” she said. “I’m trying not to get so caught up in all of the anxiety and fear.”

In these disheartening times, Johnson still remains grateful for her work.

“We’re so fortunate that we’re not going to lose our jobs during this time,” she said. “There’s so many people that are going to suffer financially.”

And when she gets overwhelmed, Johnson is able to find comfort in the overarching message she took away from her time at Benedictine.

“You just have to remember that you’re taking care of Christ,” she said.

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage its website, social media channels. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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1 Comment

  • This is so encouraging to read. Thank you for your witnesses and hard work! I’m a current senior nursing student at Benedictine College and it’s crazy right now even figuring out our capstone rotations, as you probably know. It is so wonderful that we have all had the privilege to attend such a wonderful school that really instills these values into us about holistic care of the person. Thank you again for your witness!