Monday 23 October 2017

Hospital chaplain a caring presence for those in need

Fr John Carroll, who is chaplain at Sligo Regional Hospital and Cregg House.
Fr John Carroll, who is chaplain at Sligo Regional Hospital and Cregg House.

Harry Keaney

Life, death, illness, adversity... it's all part and parcel of Fr John Carroll's daily work.

For decades the Sligo Regional Hospital chaplain has helped countless people cope.

The Strandhill native has just marked the Gold Jubilee of his ordination on March 29th 1964.

He said: "It was never obvious to me the path I was taking.

"I had a lot of questions at every stage, especially in my years in Summerhill College.

"I was unsure about everything, even faith itself.

"I had to try to overcome some serious doubts about the reality of God and the whole mystery of Christ and the human situation."

So, has his role as chaplain ever made him question the goodness of God, especially when he sees so much suffering?

He said: "I found the suffering very difficult to understand within the framework of my faith, and I still find it very difficult some times.

"You are struggling to give your full attention to the predicament as the other person sees it.

"Sometimes, multi-misfortune hits one family and that is very difficult.

"Bad things happen to good people."

So what do people want from a chaplain?

He responded: "A person who has just arrived in by ambulance or has suddenly taken 'a turn,' that person and his or her family is in a very unfamiliar place.

"There is deep insecurity and anxiety and they long for some familiar and caring presence."

Fr Carroll, who shares the hospital chaplaincy with Fr Brian Conway, said the person who calls them is usually one of the nurses.

"That nurse is with that person in that moment.

"We (chaplains) come in to a place where nurses and sometimes doctors are already supporting a person.

"It's just a case of getting there and staying there and being present with the person."

Of all the scenarios he comes across, it's obvious he finds suicide one of the most difficult.

He said: "It takes away the whole experience, for the time being, of life being worthwhile.

"You see it in the faces of the people left behind who are so shaken.

"How can you not be so shaken yourself?"

Fr Carroll is also chaplain to Cregg House, which caters for those with intellectual disabilities.

Looking back, Fr Carroll said: "It was the most wonderful thing that could have happened to me. It's a pure joy out there."

In a special jubilee Mass, the Bishop of Elphin, Most Rev Christopher Jones, spoke of Fr Carroll's work in Cregg House.

The bishop said: "Fr Carroll has always had a unique ability to communicate with residents of Cregg House who carry in their hearts a great love and affection for him.

"The Sisters of La Sagesse at Cregg House have always treasured his ministry for over 27 years."

Fr Carroll also pointed out that some times, people are not fully aware of "what the carers go through, and how they are touched by the suffering of people and their families."

"There is no them and us. We support one another. This is one of the biggest factors in being able to keep positive and keeping our hearts up."

"I see the whole thing of my day to day existence as a gift.

"That's it," he said.

Sligo Champion