Priests in training learn to care for the sick in Saint-Vincent

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BRIDGEPORT — Miguel Betancur Lenis is learning to listen.

Lenis, 33, is in his third year as a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport. He is currently studying at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY, and plans to be ordained a transitional deacon this spring. This is the last step before entering the priesthood.

As part of her studies, Lenis — who is originally from Colombia — spent one day a week at St. Vincent Medical Center in Bridgeport, undergoing pastoral training.

For four hours every Wednesday, he meets with patients, prays with them, and is generally present for their spiritual needs. Not all the patients he visits are Catholic or have any faith. Some are people who, despite their illness, want a sounding board for their complaints to the church.

“One of the encounters I had was with a person who was not a believer and who was Catholic,” Lenis said. “She was completely against the Catholic faith, but we had a nice conversation. She wanted, for a long time, to express what she felt. I was not debating. I was just listening.


This last situation happened during a recent shift, Lenis said, and, for him, it was a lesson in the importance of being there for people.

Lenis is one of three men receiving pastoral training at St. Vincent’s Medical Center. The hospital started the program at least six years ago through a collaboration with the Diocese of Bridgeport, said Deacon Tim Bolton, director of pastoral care at St. Vincent’s.

Training was suspended for about a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, but in September the latest generation of seminarians began receiving training at the hospital.

Their training includes learning about topics such as infection prevention and ethical and religious guidelines for health care. But the major element of training, Bolton said, is spending time with patients — all kinds of patients.

“They visit patients of different faiths, Bolton said. “They don’t just visit Catholic patients. They are exposed to a fairly wide variety of people.

In addition to Lenis, seminarians trained in St. Vincent are Ferry Galbert, 36, and Andrew LaFleur, 24. For Galbert, the hospital setting is at least somewhat familiar, as he is a registered nurse and spent five years working at Stamford. Hospital.

But offering pastoral care is different from offering medical care, Galbert said.

“It’s really been a blessing to me and to other men as well, just to be an instrument for the lord to use and to use us just by being present,” said Galbert, originally from Haiti.

LaFleur, a Bridgeport native, said he hasn’t had many opportunities to visit patients so far. He said most of the times he had to be with a patient, he was unable to enter the room, either because that patient was put in isolation or for some other reason.

“Sometimes there’s a sign on the door that says ‘Please Do Not Disturb’ and you have to respect that,” LaFleur said.

However, he said the lack of access doesn’t mean he’s not learning to exercise his faith in the healthcare setting.

“That kind of work encouraged me or almost pushed me to not be afraid of certain things,” LaFleur said. “You can’t be stuck in your head. You have to be with people. »

LaFleur said how often clergy visit the hospital depends on where they are assigned. If their church is in a big city, they are more likely to go to the hospital.

Bolton said many denominations require pastoral education as part of their training to become clergy, but Catholicism does not. However, some places offer it, including the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The first seminarian to receive pastoral training at St. Vincent through this current arrangement was Fr. Christopher Ford, now the diocesan vocations director. He said he largely ended up training at St. Vincent because Bolton was a friend of the family. However, the experience offered him the perspective and empathy he carries with him to this day.

“The first two or three months of training, (Bolton) didn’t let me see any Catholic patients,” Ford said. “He put me with patients where ‘going to the book’ was not an option.”

This is how Ford learned to relate to people on a deeper level – not just as a patient or as a member of a specific religion.

“There’s a person in front of you and they’re going through something,” he said.

Once seminarians have completed their training and moved on to the transitional diaconate and, presumably, to the priesthood, they are likely to use the skills they learned during their pastoral training.

“Caring for the sick – that’s one of the most common calls we get,” Ford said.

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