By Barb Arland-Fye
Jennifer Hildebrand wiped tears from her eyes as one of her students read a poem composed in Jennifer’s honor and titled “What Jennifer Gives.”
The unexpected tribute happened during the May 6 anointing service for the nine participants of the Faith Community Ministry Class of 2018, the last one sponsored by Genesis Health Ministry Nursing in Davenport. Graduates take what they have learned to provide a healing presence, not medical care, to the members of their faith communities.
This year’s graduates — and those of us in the Diocese of Davenport who know Jennifer — appreciate her steadfast faith, passion for nursing and listening skills. That last attribute is described as silence in the opening stanza of the poem composed by new graduate Maureen Kopecky, a registered nurse:
“Her silence is our gift
But she gives so many
Like the certainty of time and nature
Through crisis, peace and plenty.”
“We are a listening presence for our parishes, our faith communities,” Jennifer said at the start of the service, not realizing at that moment what an impact her listening presence made on her students. At the service’s conclusion, seven of the students (two were unable to attend) gathered around Jennifer, linking arms. Other faith community ministers joined them for a blessing, led by Dr. Erling Larson III.
“She’s a quiet, strong woman, a very strong-spirit-filled woman,” said the service’s emcee, newly anointed Faith Community Minister Char McGovern of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport.
Faith Community Ministry wasn’t even on Jennifer’s radar screen when Genesis offered the longtime registered nurse a new position: coordinator of the Health Ministry Nursing program. While she had practiced nursing in a variety of medical settings, she completed additional training for her new ministry. “God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called,” Jennifer told me after the service. That first year she taught the class, in 2013, she prayed for five participants. “I got 17.”
Coordinating the health ministry nursing program was probably her favorite position in the 30-plus years she has been a nurse. “As coordinator, I feel like the Holy Spirit is so involved in who comes to the class.” Participants — nurses, other health care providers and even individuals without health care experience – have been drawn to the class each year, some not knowing why at first, Jennifer says. The retreat-like experience made time for self-reflection. “We have to be in touch with our own spirituality in order to be there for somebody else, to be really present; to be really with them.”
Father Dan Dorau confessed that he didn’t understand the concept of Faith Community Ministers until he became parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. Now, “I don’t understand how a parish can survive without parish nursing,” he told Jennifer after the service.
Her profound faith helped students become more aware of “uniting our faith with our professional work,” Maureen, the poet-nurse observed. “The faith component is good medicine,” added Lori Bruning of Viola, Ill.
Jennifer told her students during class, “A lot of what you are going to see is loneliness.” What parishioners “are grieving is to be with someone, to have someone listen to their story.” Jennifer will continue to listen to people’s stories at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, where she volunteers as parish nurse. She’ll also collaborate with the Diocese of Davenport on a volunteer basis to be supportive of Faith Community Ministers.
“… She came here to show us how it’s done
What Jennifer gives
Will surely come back to her
Then teach us how to live.”
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)