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A hospital chaplain’s influence

Priest’s good work led Judy to same role at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

Judy Stanfield has been a chaplain at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for 33 years.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
Judy Stanfield was impressed with the extraordinary care and concern shown by the staff at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital when her son was hospitalized. Included was a chaplain at the time, Jesuit Father Jim Reinert, who was a constant visitor.

Stanfield’s youngest son, Matthew, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2. Instead of a childhood form of the disease and remission after treatment, he had a rare adult form in which he never responded. He died about eight months later.

Father Reinert invited Judy and her husband to lunch shortly after Matthew died. She told him she’d had some job interviews, but nothing had substance or was the right fit. He asked her to consider pastoral care as a career.

“I said, ‘Me, pastoral care?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ So I went home, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I called him a few days later and asked how I go about that if it’s what I decide to do.”

She began clinical pastoral education at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kirkwood, worked there for a year, then started working at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon. She’s been there for 33 years.

Pastoral care is part of the trauma team, so chaplains serve as liaisons between the medical staff and families. “We comfort them, pray with them, have them talk about their child, just be with them where they are, listen to their fears, concerns and worries,” said Judy, who is a parishioner at St. Raphael the Archangel.

On daily rounds, the chaplains visit families. “We see how they’re coping and what we can do to assist them,” she said.

Judy tells of instances in which families initially say they have no faith. “But as the illness goes on, their spirituality comes out and it’s beautiful to watch,” Judy said.

The families she visits often demonstrate amazing faith lives, the chaplain said. Families with severely disabled children are especially impressive. “I’m talking about children who can’t do anything for themselves. They do that care for years. That’s really strong faith. They’ll have a mini-hospital set up in their house. It’s profound.”

Because of precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, chaplains at the hospital only were responding to emergencies. Normally, they visit patients and their families throughout the hospital, but they began doing those visits via telephone.

The hospital’s chapel regularly has Mass Sunday through Friday celebrated by various priests, although the celebration of these Masses was suspended due to the pandemic.

Catholic families often ask for Communion. And Judy performs emergency baptisms, especially in the neonatal intensive care unit when the baby’s survival is in question.

The hospital’s impact extends way beyond its physical building on South Grand Avenue in St. Louis.

For example, Judy and her husband became so close to their son’s doctors that they invited the physicians to their other children’s weddings. “We were so close. They made you feel like you were the only one in the hospital,” she said.

About five years after Matthew died, the Stanfields began an annual Missouri state handball tournament and banquet with an auction as a fundraiser for SSM Health Cardinal Glennon’s Costas Center, the Ronald McDonald House and a remodel of the hospital chapel. It “really made you feel good, doing something to contribute, giving back,” she said.

As a chaplain, Judy often is asked to take a role at funerals of former patients who died. “I’ve driven as far as three hours away,” she said. “And there’s so many of the nurses, chaplains, doctors, respiratory therapists and others who go to those funerals, too.”

Many staff members attended her son’s funeral at St. Raphael Church in St. Louis. “There’s so many good, good people here,” she said.

Judy and other chaplains visited the family of John Smith, whose ordeal after falling in Lake Sainte Louise in St. Charles was the subject of the movie “Breakthrough.” When the boy arrived at the hospital “we didn’t give him much hope. It was pretty amazing,” Stanfield said of his recovery.

Children often recover after life-threatening instances. “That’s uplifting and makes you feel good, especially when these families come back knocking on our door with their child, saying ‘Hey, look at our child,’” Judy said.

Outreach to families

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is committed to revealing the healing presence of God through its exceptional health care services and through prayer. The chapel is open 24 hours.

Chaplains’ roles include listening, praying with patients and families, supporting families through difficult decisions, helping with faith resources, responding to fear, anxiety and grief, providing sacraments and more.

Until being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Holy Communion was offered daily to Catholic patients. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Sacrament of Reconciliation may be celebrated with patients and their families upon request.

Glennon Sunday is held the first weekend in June. Make a contribution to support SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital at your parish or at www.glennon.org.

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