Role of parish nurse brings new dimension to pastoral care

BEAUFORT — Churches have promoted health and wholeness for centuries, however, a nurse added to the parish staff brings a new dimension to the attention of the congregation.

Sister Carol Zupancic is the parish nurse and Hispanic ministry contact at St. Peter Church in Beaufort. Her role allows her to be a visible sign of the healing presence of Christ, while also functioning as a professional within her own community.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Sister Zupancic’s vocation has taken her from ministering in Belize and Guatemala to the Lowcountry. A personal health counselor, she makes home visits as well as Communion visits to the hospitals. As a community resource liaison she directs those in need of special services to the appropriate agencies, and as a facilitator she trains volunteers to work with the homebound.

For Millvale Franciscans, taking care of the poor and disadvantaged is a time-honored tradition.

“I respect the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of those in need, and want to affirm their strength, dignity and wisdom to be in solidarity with them,” said Sister Zupancic. “I hope to allow God to contemplate me through all the senses of touch, sound, smell to see and speak their words.”

She added, “It gives me great hope and satisfaction to see that we, as church at St. Peter’s, are able to recognize the importance of sharing in the lives of those in need — to be social, economic, educational, physical, spiritual or psychological. Because we are Gospel people, we look for ways he is enfleshed in our contemporary world.”

As parish nurse, Sister Zupancic receives many requests for assistance to go where she has never been. “I am invited anew to live out what it truly means to be about the reign of God — a lived out response, allowing the Spirit to be that good news of God’s love to all I meet.” She stressed that this journey at St. Peter’s has been a humbling experience as she’s invited to share the varied stories of people during their most vulnerable moments. “I have learned how they deal with life; how they cope with grief, loss, tragedy, stress and disappointments; as well as how they talk to God. I am privileged to rework my understanding of him and of my own tasks as disciple.”

As a member of the parish team, Sister Zupancic emphasized that several roles have emerged for her:

— Personal health counselor: To discuss holistic health concerns with parishioners desiring a better understanding so that informed decisions can be made. To make Communion visits in the hospitals (twice per week), nursing homes and extended care facilities. To visit parishioners’ homes during times of crisis and celebration.

— School nurse: To maintain student health records as mandated by the Department of Health. To perform annual health screenings and make necessary referrals to parents. To write articles on health issues and conduct classes upon request.

— Health educator: To promote an understanding of the relationship between lifestyle, attitudes, faith and well-being through education, health screenings and health promotion materials. To promote self-responsibility for holistic health care.

— Community resource liaison: To provide information about community resources/services and ways to access them, and to make referrals to community agencies, health and social service agencies, and support groups. To become an active member of community programs.

— Facilitator: To recruit, coordinate and train volunteers within the congregation for the sick and homebound, health programs and screenings and the Birthright initiative.

Sister Zupancic said her goal is to begin a Birthright chapter in Beaufort and promote more care for the elderly.