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The Florida Catholic

Parish nurse volunteers promote whole-person care

PORT ST. LUCIE  |  In January 2021, St. Bernadette Church in Port St. Lucie was one of seven churches in Florida used as a one-time only COVID-19 vaccination site: 500 doses were allocated with the second dose distributed at the end of the month.

Known for their professionalism and expertise, the parish’s faith community nurses have been volunteering throughout the pandemic without skipping a beat. Carol Lindner, parish nurse coordinator and emergency room registered nurse, volunteered on the front lines.

“St. Bernadette, Holy Family and St. Lucie churches set up clinics and vaccines were administered rapidly,” she said. “Every nurse (in the ministry) distributed vaccines to the community and in physician offices. The City of Port St. Lucie ran it smoothly. Some parish members who are physicians also participated.”

A host of grateful caregivers appreciate the time these women give in service to others. By default, they have adapted to use technologies like Zoom and Go-To Meeting, assisting with education, emotional support and workshops.

Joanne Hendee, a parishioner at St. Bernadette Parish, joined the nurse ministry a month after it was established in January 2017. Her area of expertise is psychiatric nursing, children and geriatrics.

“We began with a workshop, Comfort for Caregivers, at St. Lucie Church to share information and resources, leading to St. Bernadette Church’s ministry. Only a few years from inception, the ministry was honored by Catholic Charities (of Palm Beach),” she said. “It’s an amazing group.”

Lindner runs the monthly morning meetings at the church, oversees the helpline, assesses needs and manages the team. Referrals come in through the church office and are processed. Each call is tracked, whether as crisis or a 2-1-1 referral, to link services through social agencies.

In the thick of COVID-19, health and exercise classes were popular. “Parishioners and area residents received invaluable direct help in movement and exercise, diabetes care and chronic illness self-management,” Hendee said. “In isolation, the nurses were one of the few social contacts for most folks when seniors could not get to the gym or leave their home,” she said.

As an asset, each licensed, registered nurse works to promote whole-person care with attention to corporal acts of mercy. “We all want to give back to God. We’re like the Marines. As a nurse, all of us – we don’t retire from nursing,” Hendee said. “That piece of us that wants to help people, our own blessings, compel me to give back. How better to embrace faith, rejoice, praise and be part of a ministry that shares the compassion of Jesus Christ?”

Since 2006, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach’s Interfaith Health and Wellness Ministry has trained faith community nurses to educate individuals in their communities on matters of health and healing. The nurse stewards carpool to West Palm Beach monthly for networking, advice from a guest speaker and updates. Important topics include hospice, end-of-life essential advanced directives and Holocaust survivor nursing care. With the support of their parish clergy, volunteer nurses comprise a viable outreach to people of all faiths or no faith—at churches, temples, mosques and other faith-based initiatives.

Access to healthcare and basic support services, irrespective of religious affiliation, age or income is the goal. The hope is to achieve community wellness. Providing comprehensive attention to clients with the mantle of best practices is all in a day’s work. Program services include counseling for the aged and their families, assessment of personal and medical needs and referral to community services for all ages.

Parish nurses care for their mind, body and spirit through the camaraderie, confidentiality, respect and mutual trust that is foundational in their profession. Their faith in action is a testimony to a faith-based relationship of serving those in most need of health literacy that promotes healthy lifestyles. “We are inspired by Blessed Hanna Chrzanowska,” Hendee said. Chrzanowska was the first faith-based community nurse during WWII, and aided soldiers in Poland. Beautified in 2018, she is the Nurse of Mercy. “We all have our own copy of her book to be inspired.”

For personal renewal, volunteer nurses participate in a week-long, 35-hour nurse retreat that offers networking among peers. An opportunity to meet other nurses from around the diocese’s five-county area and a link with those who are not Catholic, they support each other and share what is going on in their communities.

“In our parish, the nurses have a variety of skill sets and strengths accessible as needs arise from the community,” Hendee said. “Our backgrounds are diverse: ER, ICU, home health, veteran’s issues and psych experience. This ministry came into my life when I needed it most, as if God said, ‘I’m calling you and this is your time.’ Each one of us had just the right skill set—you couldn’t tell me it wasn’t God who orchestrated our team. We are a vital part of a church ministry, a true ministry of helps.”

For Hendee issues like diabetes, chronic illness management and risk memory balance are high priorities. Her specialty is a training workshop called Powerful Tools for Caregivers, providing insights for caregivers. A paid, part-time nurse provides respite care—a lifeline when there isn’t anyone to watch a spouse or parent while running errands.

She also shared positive outcomes during a terrible pandemic. Many clients became computer savvy in order to access online appointments. “Often we had people in their 90s using the platforms that translated to virtual visiting with their grandchildren,” Hendee said.

“Part of our mission statement is to provide education, prevention, and support,” she added. As part of their own education, training is ongoing including Area Agency on Aging certifications and periodic updates. Each nurse must pass a state Level II security screening, must carry their own malpractice insurance, have a current CPR certificate, state license and continuing education credits to assure the public that they are being cared for by real nurses. “There is a paper trail,” Hendee said, adding that most of the expense is incurred by the volunteer.

According to Bernadette Macy, Program Administrator for Catholic Charities of Palm Beach’s Interfaith Health and Wellness Ministry, the respite program is free throughout St. Lucie County and has been delivering caregiver baskets through contactless delivery with wellness tips and supplies. “We’d like more caregivers in the diocese to know about the online course “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” and that respite care (providing one to two hours of home visits) will be starting up again in the near future and they can get their name on the waitlist,” Macy said. The annual Foundations of Faith Community Course will be offered free online in November to registered nurses wishing to volunteer as parish nurses.

Catholic Charities and St. Francis Center
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach delivers social services in response to the needs of the poor, with quality programs that serve children, families and homless.  In living out the faith the organization creates hope for people in need, without regard to religion.  Through these programs and ministries, individuals are empowered.  Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach collaborates with others in building just and compassionate communities.  For information, call 561-345-2006, or visit or