When Rebecca Calderone entered a pre-nursing program in college, she had no idea the path would lead her to chaplaincy, a position she holds dear at St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud.
She enjoyed the nursing program, but, during her junior year, Calderone decided it wasn’t the best fit for her. She also had a second major in religion, with a focus on Eastern and Western contemplative practices.
“That was my little niche but I didn’t think there was much I could do with it career-wise,” she said.
Calderone took a time off from school and visited St. Mary’s Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois, where she began discerning her next move.
She shadowed some of the sisters in their work and was introduced to hospital chaplaincy.
“It wasn’t a big light-bulb moment but it was the first little inkling toward a chaplain career,” she recalled.
When she returned to school, she looked at graduate school options and was led to St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, where she earned a master of divinity degree.
“When I started there, I don’t think I knew for sure that I wanted to do chaplaincy. But I knew I loved studying theology and I wanted to figure out a way to make that into a career,” she said.
After completing her residency at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, she worked in hospice. That’s when she truly knew she wanted to work with end-of-life care.
When the position opened for a director of spiritual care at St. Benedict’s, Calderone felt like it was the right place for her.
“It has been a perfect blend of my interests in medicine and clinical work and spirituality,” she said. “I’ve been able to use a lot of the knowledge I gained, including my undergrad with the contemplative practices that I studied. I use them to help patients who have a lot of anxiety or pain.”
Calderone, who lives in St. Cloud with her husband, Chris, and new daughter, Alice, has been the director of spiritual care at St. Benedict’s Senior Community for nearly three years.
As the director, her position is two-fold — half of her time is spent as a chaplain and half of her time is spent in administrative work, including serving on the ethics committee, coordinating the volunteer program and participating in the steering committee for a new neighborhood model for the community.
The most meaningful time, she said, is time spent with the residents.
“It’s really a privilege to be able to journey through that sacred time and open up the big questions people have, and the big pains that they have carried through their life, to explore them and to work on healing in those final days, weeks, months, whatever time that we have together,” she said.
As in any ministry, Calderone’s role doesn’t come without trials. One of the biggest hurdles is ensuring there are enough volunteers to help provide the sacraments.
“I think the biggest challenge for anybody in ministry is resources. This is a Catholic facility and we are very lucky to have a spiritual care department. We have two full-time people and one half-time person. But there is often an average of about 140 people in our care at any given time. There’s no way that we could make Communion rounds to everyone each day.
“We really rely on good volunteers,” Calderone said. “The volunteers are bringing the sacrament and that in itself is significant, but the volunteers themselves are being Christ for the residents. There are so many residents who don’t have any visitors otherwise, so to have someone knocking on their door, coming in as a friendly face, saying good morning, bringing Communion and saying a short prayer with them makes a huge difference in people’s day.”
It may only be a minute or two that a volunteer spends bringing the Eucharist to a resident or patient at St. Benedict’s. But for some people, it is the most important moment of their day.
“Taking the Holy Body brings you closer to Christ,” said Vicky Budig, a resident at St. Benedict’s. “He is right there with you. Whoever comes says the blessing and gives me Communion and then the rest of my day is lifted. When I don’t receive it, I am missing that part of my day. It is the most beautiful thing you can receive in your life. My heart is opened when I receive Communion.”
Budig has lived in the senior community for about seven years and has gotten to know many of the volunteers who visit her each day.
“You couldn’t ask for nicer people,” she said. “Some take time to visit, some pray with me. I thank God that there are people who can go around and give us Communion and, maybe now and then, have time to chit chat. It’s what I look forward to each day.”
Betty Kampa Miller, a member of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, has been volunteering as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at St. Benedict’s for nearly eight years. She and Budig have gotten to know each other during their morning visits.
“I enjoy coming here,” Kampa Miller said. “The people really appreciate us coming. And it does have an impact on me to be able to bring Jesus to the people.”
Kampa Miller said it doesn’t require a lot of special skills to be a volunteer.
“You just need the willingness and a certain amount of spirituality,” she said. “We need to be sincere in what we are doing. Some people are here for healing and rest and that’s something the Eucharist can bring to them.”
Calderone said the community is in need of more volunteers to distribute Communion. Eucharistic ministers arrive at 8:30 a.m., round the floors distributing Communion and serve during the 10 a.m. Mass. Other volunteer opportunities include rosary leaders daily at 3:45 p.m. and chapel attendants who set up for Mass, escort residents in and out of the chapel and tend to their needs during Mass.
“A lot of people think they can’t do it or don’t have the time to do it,” she said. “The small amount of time with our residents here makes a huge impact in their lives. Even if it is one morning a month, that in itself would make an impact.
“You don’t have to be a trained minister in your parish,” Calderone added. “We train you, have some conversation around the theology of eucharistic ministry and we have a commissioning. It’s not about how much time you can give, just that you show up here and there and do what you can. You really just need to have the heart to do it.”
For more information, contact Calderone at 320-252-0010 ext. 30276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.