By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
WORCESTER – People whose cancer has affected them spiritually have been expressing a need for help with such struggles. As a result, St. Vincent Hospital has formed a support group to provide that help. It is for cancer patients, cancer survivors, and those concerned about them.
The monthly gathering is to include group sharing, Mass, and the sacrament of the sick for those properly disposed, said Msgr. Peter R. Beaulieu, the hospital’s director of mission integration and pastoral care. He is facilitating the gatherings with Sister Paula Kelleher, a Sister of St. Joseph who is a chaplain certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
The gatherings are at the St. Vincent Cancer & Wellness Center at 1 Eaton Place (across the street from the WRTA bus terminal) on the first Thursday of each month through June. (The first meeting was Jan. 5.)
Donna Lacerte-Blais, a certified oncology social worker at the center, said some people in the cancer support group she leads on the second and fourth Thursday of each month raised spiritual issues that didn’t fit the whole group. Some also talked with her outside the group about their spiritual struggles. She said she thought a separate group was needed to provide support and a safe place to talk about those issues.
“I thought that, as a Catholic institution, one thing we should have is the spiritual support – that you care for the soul too,” Msgr. Beaulieu said. To offer this, the Pastoral Care Department had to expand its scope of care to include outpatients, thus “widening the presence of the Church,” he said.
Msgr. Beaulieu said if interest continues, the group could continue through the summer and beyond.
Mass is celebrated at 11:30 a.m. in the cancer center chapel and the support group is from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in one of the radiation/oncology conference rooms. Both are on the center’s garden level (basement). Participants can attend just the Mass, just the support group, or both.
Mrs. Lacerte-Blais said this group falls under the center’s wellness programs, which are open to all cancer patients, whether or not they are being treated by St. Vincent Hospital. In addition to the two cancer support groups, a third one is specifically for young women with breast cancer. Other wellness programs include yoga, reflexology, massage, exercise, cognitive support and nutritional information.
Msgr. Beaulieu said five outpatients and supporters joined him and Sister Paula at the first spiritual support group. One or two more attended the Mass but did not stay for the meeting. Msgr. Beaulieu said he preached about the anointing of the sick at the Mass. Most participants knew each other from other programs, but were meeting him and Sister Paula for the first time, he said.
Mrs. Lacerte-Blais said she got positive feedback from attendees.
A flier about the gathering says topics will include spiritual aids for living with cancer, various methods of prayer, and healing the troubled heart, mind and soul, and that topics will be added at the participants’ request.
“Am I the only one who is angry at God?” is one of the questions raised in the flier. “How do I recover the faith and hope I once had? Can I?”
The flier continues: “If these are the kinds of questions you find yourself asking, consider coming to the support group. Hear from others in a similar situation and learn from those who have been there.”