At the heart of our charism is a commitment to bring God’s compassion, healing, and liberation to all of creation and to people in need. ~ Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours, USA
At the end of the year of service, we witness each community leave Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry with a personal understanding of their deep connection to their brothers and sisters in West Baltimore. This new understanding is the heart of Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry’s mission of “transformation through service with others.” In her reflection below, Meghan Krueger writes, I wish to “serve in the vulnerable way that requires the ‘giver’ to acknowledge his or her own brokenness and dependence on those deemed ‘in need’.” This transformation that Meghan describes speaks to the liberation that Ministry Volunteers receive.
In addition to Meghan Krueger, BSVM 2013-3014, who now works as a nurse at Health Care for the Homeless, we asked two other BSVM alums to reflect on how the compassion and healing that they encountered during their time with BSVM continues to allow them to share in liberation with others. Allison Bombard, BSVM 2008-2009, now serves as a social worker, and Adesola (Yeti) Haugabrook, BSVM 2013-2014, presently works in the field of Public Health. The gratitude of these BSVM alums to the Sisters of Bon Secours shines through as they express how the sisters’ charism continues to be an integral part of their lives.
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ~ Lila Watson
Ever since hearing this quote for the first time in a seminar preceding a service learning trip, it has stuck with me. Prior to my time with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, I didn’t have the depth of understanding for what it meant to truly serve; to serve in the vulnerable way that requires the “giver” to acknowledge his or her own brokenness and dependence on those deemed “in need”. I believe that the current understanding and appreciation I have for the concept of liberation, especially as it relates to compassion and healing, will be one of my greatest assets as I begin my career as a nurse.
During my volunteer year, my community hosted an admired priest for dinner, Fr. Sam. While sharing the meal, the concept and concern over burnout in the field of various helping professions was discussed. Fr. Sam said that during his time as a priest, he worked with many people who were suffering and in challenging circumstances. He learned that to try to fix people or change them would only lead to frustration and discouragement. On the contrary, by humbling himself to his limitations and recognizing that his role was – in a pure and powerful way – to accompany and support people on their journeys, he remained hopeful. In a culture where it seems that everyone wants to “change the world” or “make a difference,” Fr. Sam’s response was unexpected and a bit tough to swallow. At the same time, it was revolutionary for me and I’ll never forget it.
With regard to healing and compassion in the context of nursing care, it might be first assumed that liberation applies to the patient’s freedom from suffering. I have come to understand that it goes far beyond that. Liberation for patients realistically does not always look like being healed or cured. There is peace in recognizing that I am not meant to fix patients. I can provide them liberation in the form of relief from pain, anxiety, and loneliness through medicine, tender care, accompaniment, and advocacy. From a nurse’s perspective, letting go of the expectation to cure and acknowledging what is in my control to affect is indeed liberating. It is a humbling notion, and one that will likely take time to fully understand and embrace.
I find it helpful to see how I, the care provider, experience liberation. In this context, liberation refers to freedom from unrealistic expectation and a surrender of control. It will be through the acceptance of my own limitations as a care provider, and the appreciation for the small victories of each patient that I will be able to be a more compassionate nurse. The liberation of both myself and my patients is truly bound together; provider and patient are meant to work as a team. I am confident that my understanding of and commitment to this relationship will allow me to be my best self. Through an embrace of the words of Lila Watson and the wisdom of Fr. Sam, I will allow myself and others to remain free from the bonds of burnout that seem so common in fields of service like nursing.
~Meghan Krueger, BSVM 2014-2015
As a BSVM volunteer, I served at the Bon Secours Family Support Center. One of the mother’s had five children and was joining the program for her third time in an attempt to earn her GED. I asked her what kept her coming back. She responded that she knew she would be supported and that she would not be judged for not finishing the first two times. I think of this often and strive to provide a similar sanctuary for the families and individuals I serve in my daily work as a social worker. I hope to provide a place of compassion, healing and, ultimately, liberation.
From my experience in Baltimore with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, I remind myself often that kindness is extremely important to my daily work. Kindness creates an environment in which people may experience liberation. As I work in a myriad of settings and with a broad range of populations, I try to make every person I meet my main focus in that moment. I try to treat them with compassion and understanding. I have heard many times that people want to feel that their needs are heard and that they have a say in their services, care, and healing. It is a liberating experience for people to feel empowered and to have a voice in their care.
~Allison Bombard, BSVM 2008-2009
As a Bon Secours Ministry Volunteer, I saw experiences of liberation as a result of the compassionate and healing works of the Sisters of Bon Secours and staff at Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital. As they served the patients and empathized with their sickness or their circumstance, the sisters and staff at the hospital were able to provide patients with tools for healing or recovery. These were simple, yet empowering, acts of love. They resulted in freedom, freedom for the patient to continue to walk out their life in purpose with the support, resources, and kindness, they received. It was inspiring to witness the liberating relationships that the staff and sisters formed with their patients through the compassionate, healing service they provided.
I personally experienced liberation as a volunteer in so many ways. One instance that comes to mind was at my service site at Bon Secours Hospital in the Outcomes Management Department. I was given the task to go into high risk patients’ rooms to assist in screening so that the Case Management and Care Transition teams could then support patients with resources. Each time I asked the sensitive question, Do you have HIV?, I was very hesitant and completely avoided eye contact with the patient. One day, I was able to ask the question and look my patient in the eye. For some reason, seeing my patient in that moment triggered the instinct for me to offer compassion rather than judgment or fear. When the patient answered “yes,” and I was able to continue to compassionately assist this patient with access to medication and services; I felt there was an immediate release of freedom. I felt free to go forth and ask every patient the more sensitive questions on the assessment. In that moment, I also believed that the patient felt free of the stigma of being seen as different.
Since leaving BSVM, this perception of liberation has helped me to embrace difficult situations and has also led me to be interested in a career serving communities through the field of Public Health. My perception of liberation is that it can be a result of compassion and healing and that it happens in community with others. Every time I saw liberation in patients, in my housemates, or co-workers, it was always something I observed in community with others. I hope that I can always remember the power of compassion to generate liberation and to facilitate healing, the way that I experienced it with BSVM.
~Adesola (Yeti) Haugabrook, BSVM 2013-2014