Alumni Reflect on Bon Secours Charism of Liberation
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
Lending An Ear, Lending a Voice by Patrick O’Neil
At the end of February, the hospital implemented an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. It was a particularly hectic and stressful time for a majority of the staff. Since most of the staff have been consumed with figuring out the details of the new system, I feel as if my job is more important than ever to spend time with patients and accompany them during their ER experience.
One such patient was brought into the ER by ambulance with panic attack symptoms, including having difficulty breathing. She was an incredibly sweet woman, and so I was drawn to her room frequently to sit and chat with her. She shared with me that she was very frustrated because her nebulizer machine at home was not administering her medicine properly, and she felt like it wasn’t working. She had called her insurance company to ask if they could help her, but she was told that they couldn’t do anything for her unless she had a prescription from her primary care doctor. Becoming frustrated and anxious, she explained that she did have a prescription. However, when she becomes anxious she begins to slur and stutter, and the representative at the insurance company could not understand what she was asking. To make a long story short, she asked if I could help her obtain a new machine, and I said I would do whatever I could to help her.
When I went back to her room a short while later, she was still waiting for the doctor so she could ask for assistance with the nebulizer machine. While I was there, the doctor came in to check on her and it was at this time that the patient began experiencing the onset of another panic attack. The doctor worked through it with her, calming her down enough to ask her what we could do to help her. Since she was having trouble forming coherent words due to her panic attack, she asked me to help explain her case to the doctor since the patient had already explained it to me. I explained to the doctor the issue with the nebulizer machine, as well as the panic attacks that she was regularly experiencing. The doctor said she would set the patient up with an appointment at the primary care clinic at the hospital, as well as give her information to see a psychiatrist to help figure out the panic attacks. After the doctor left the room, I stayed to make sure the patient was okay. She gave me a huge hug and simply said “thank you.”
I can’t pretend to know what any of the patients that come through the ER are going through, but what I can do is accompany them while they are in the ER and let them know that they don’t have to go through the experience alone.
The 2012-13 Volunteers reflect on liberation
This year of service has provided many new opportunities for our ministry volunteers. While they have come to serve the people of southwest Baltimore and give of themselves, inevitably the reciprocal nature of relationships becomes clear. The truth of two-way relationships became especially clear when the volunteers were asked to consider the role of liberation in their year of service. While some of the volunteers reflected on how they had the chance to give liberation in their work at the Bon Secours hospital or Family Support Center, several volunteers also reflected on how they had received liberation from the people they serve with and the time spent reflecting on the presence of God in their lives. These brief reflections underline the nature of liberation as a break from the past, especially from fear or worry.
Kelsey has appreciated her opportunity to serve as a liberator with her work in the Tele-Heart program. “By showing patience and concern for the patients whose blood pressure I take every week, I have given them a listening ear and a hand of comfort and reassurance. I have given them liberation from the fears and concerns that are common to congestive heart failure patients.”
In a similar way, Julie has seen her work helping discharged patients secure follow-up appointments impact the people she serves. “In my ministry, I have been able to give liberation in the form of providing primary care. If patients keep their follow-up appointments, they have the opportunity to secure consistent health care and break the cycle of consistent re-admittance to the hospital.”
Kyle summarized the role that liberation has played in his time this year, by noting both the liberation he has given, as well as received. “This year I have been liberated by being able to take the time for reflection. This has allowed me to see how this experience has changed me, and how I have impacted others.”
Rebecca’s service in the Family Support Center has opened her eyes in many new ways, and provided her liberation in the form of the ability and opportunity to love more broadly. “My time in Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry has freed me from limiting social structures. I have grown to love and build relationships with people of various ages, races, religions and economic backgrounds.”
Danielle’s work in the Renal Department has provided her liberation from concern about being in a new city and far from her home and family. “Travelling away from home, I was burdened with the thought of missing my family and friends. I received liberation through my work at the hospital where the patients and staff were so welcoming to me. My fear of being homesick was relieved as the Renal Department became my family. I truly feel blessed every day as I serve others.”
Eugene also reflected on being liberated from worry and uncertainty about the future. “This year, God has liberated me from all my worries about my future. Although these thoughts still exist in me, God has assured me over the months that I am in his hands and He has a plan for me.”
Hearts Wide Open by Sarah Ceponis, 2011-12 volunteer
Nine months ago during my graduation weekend, I sat in an audience of students committed to post-graduate service and listened as a speaker shared with us her thoughts on our coming year. Though not all her words stuck that day, I do remember those she borrowed from renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney. From his poem, “Postscript,” she read: “You are neither here nor there/ A hurry through which known and strange things pass/ As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways/ And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”
For me and my three roommates in the Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry program, we are living Heaney’s poetry this year. We are “neither here nor there” not in a scattered sense, but in the sense that we occupy two worlds at once. Half our hearts- our upbringings, our families, many friends- lie in comfortable suburbs hundreds of miles and infinite degrees of difference away. The other halves of our hearts have become deeply rooted in a whole new world: that of Southwest Baltimore. We have found in his place, under decaying facades- the littered sidewalks, the boarded-up buildings- a vibrant community, a spirited population, a place at once able to push our boundaries and also able to pull us completely in.
Again and again, we have found ourselves surprised, one might say, by the “big soft buffetings” we encounter in our workplaces. An emergency room patient recently told [my community member], upon hearing she only worked there until July, “Well, I’ll have to come back a lot before then”. And every few weeks, [another of my community members] comes home bearing two or three puzzles as gifts; an elderly woman she serves has almost nothing, but somehow comes up with something to give. When a hospital health far had leftover decorations, [the last of my community members] traveled to patient rooms handing them out, and even an old man, gravely ill in bed, said yes, he would love a red heart balloon. At the Family Support Center a few weeks ago, I stood and watched a barely 3 year old comfort her tiny, crying baby sister, saying: “Ji’Yah, don’t cry. You’re ok. Mommy’s in class. I’m here now. I love you- really. Don’t cry.”
Moments like these- of irony and puzzles, of red balloons and unconditional love- dazzle us. They are things we might have deemed strange in our old world, but these things are now fitting and known in our new world, now known in our hearts. For us volunteers, if the landscape of our past is “there,” and the streets of our present “here”, we truly do reside in an in-between this year. It is not hazy or disorienting; the edge of a canyon between two worlds is a perfect place to find fresh air.
When the 6 year old I babysat asked me, before I left for Baltimore, what “doing service” was, I told him a definition in the simplest terms I could think of: “It’s holding hands with someone you don’t know.” Now I would tell him it is that and much more. It is surrendering your heart. To borrow the words of Seamus Heaney, “It is letting your heart be caught off guard and blown open.”