Thrive by IU Health

May 27, 2021

Father Patrick is a ray of sunshine at Methodist Hospital

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Father Patrick is a ray of sunshine at Methodist Hospital

“Chaplaincy is not all about religion. It’s about being present through human suffering and pain.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Father Patrick Nwokeogu is a joyful presence in a place where suffering is no stranger.

The Catholic priest spends his days ministering to the needs of patients and staff at IU Health Methodist Hospital. It’s a calling for this chaplain, a calling he believes God prepared him for decades ago when he helped care for his ailing father and grandmother back in his home country of Nigeria.

His father passed away in 1996, one month before Father Patrick’s ordination, but he takes comfort knowing he is on the path chosen for him.

A chaplain for two years at Methodist, he starts his day in the surgery assessment area, where he checks in on team members and on patients who are being prepped for surgery.

“He’s probably the best part of the morning for us,” said RN Katelyn Kingsbury. “He makes a huge difference. Everybody knows if 6:30 a.m. is here and Father Patrick has not arrived yet, we’re wondering where he is.”

Father Patrick with the surgery unit

As if on cue, the chaplain walks into the assessment area and gathers available team members in a circle for voluntary prayer to start their day.

“I believe it helps the team,” Kingsbury said, as the nurses and techs disperse after a few minutes to go about their tasks. That leaves Father Patrick to quietly check in with patients who are waiting to be transported to surgery.

“You can’t really tell with the mask on, but he’s always smiling,” the nurse said. “Everybody loves Father Patrick.”

“MY NAME IS ED, GOD KNOWS ME”

Ed Vennon is at Methodist to have a stent placed in his right carotid artery, which is about 70% blocked.

“Good morning, may I come in?” the chaplain asks.

Father Patrick chats with Vennon

Father Patrick never assumes that patients want to talk with him or pray with him, but Vennon is receptive.

“Sure, how are you chaplain? I’m at your disposal, as you can see,” Vennon says with a chuckle.

When Father Patrick asks about the patient’s impending surgery, Vennon, 84, is matter-of-fact about it, telling the chaplain that he’d had a couple of TIAs or transient ischemic attacks. These types of mini-strokes last only a few minutes and occur when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly blocked.

It was Vennon’s ophthalmologist who saw signs of the TIAs and suggested he be seen by a physician.

“The diagnosis was right on target,” Vennon said. “That tells me, chaplain, that the Lord is looking out for me.”

Vennon, a retired lobbyist who dabbled in journalism early in his career, has seen the inside of a hospital many times in his eight decades. He was just 8 years old when he contracted polio and spent eight months convalescing at Riley Hospital for Children in 1944-1945. The Rotary Building was dedicated in 1931 as a convalescent center where children could live, receive care and attend school.

“That was a hard time for my family because the war was on and for some reason, I was shipped away from our home in northwest Indiana to Indianapolis to recover.”

His parents were only able to visit on the weekends, one hour with his dad and one hour with his mom.

As Vennon talks, Father Patrick listens. That’s a big part of his job – listening for and responding to fears and anxieties in the hospital setting.

“How do you feel about this surgery?”

“Confident,” Vennon replies. “What’s going to happen is going to happen. If my time is getting short on this Earth, that’s OK.”

As Father Patrick prepares to step out of the room after a short blessing, Vennon thanks him and leaves him with this: “My name is Ed, God knows me.”

MEET PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Most patients Father Patrick sees display more anxiety than Vennon, but the mission is the same – to meet people where they are.

Father Patrick pets his dog

Father Patrick came to Indianapolis from Los Angeles, where he served as a parish priest for four years. The transition in ministry has been rewarding. The transition in winter weather? Not so much.

“The first winter here, it was brutal,” he said. “It was my first time to see snow. I enjoy seeing everything white, but it was scary to drive. I remember at one intersection, I pressed on my brakes and my car kept going, right through the red light.”

Cold and snow aside, he is happy to be working in healthcare ministry in the state’s largest hospital.

“Chaplaincy is not all about religion,” he said. “It’s about being present through human suffering and pain.”

Father Patrick, who has degrees in philosophy and theology and is certified in clinical pastoral education, is currently working on a master’s in psychology.

“I’m happy doing what I do. I get fulfillment and I try to share that with everyone,” including the team members, he said.

Healthcare is a noble profession, he added, and it’s important to recognize everyone’s humanity and dignity in the jobs they do and the lives they lead.

That’s one of the reasons he is so beloved down in surgery assessment, Kingsbury said.

“He’s always doing more for other people than he does for himself,” she said. “Last year, we had a surprise birthday party for him on the unit, taking time to celebrate him. He was overwhelmed.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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