Parish nurses care for body, soul

Bob Hughes gets his blood pressure checked by parish nurse Cathy Thennes at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf.

By Anne Marie Amacher

DAVENPORT — Parish nurses from across the Diocese of Davenport were invited to talk about health ministry with Social Action Director Kent Ferris on May 10 in Davenport.

“A health or parish nurse ministry responds to specific needs that are often experienced by our most vulnerable brothers and sisters,” he said. “I am very excited about the possibility of supporting and promoting such efforts across the diocese in new ways.”

During the meeting, Quad-City parish nurses Cathy Thennes of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, Mary Fritch of Holy Family Parish in Davenport, Lorraine Pacha of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport and Marina Castel of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport shared their thoughts and experiences on nursing and parish nurse ministry.

“We take care of the mind, body and spirit,” said Thennes, a part-time, paid parish nurse at Lourdes.


She graduated from nursing school in 1978, but had been at home raising four kids for a number of years. When her youngest was getting ready to enter school, she began thinking about what she wanted to do. Around that time Trinity Regional Health System made a presentation to Father Tom Spiegel, who was the parish’s pastor then. “I went up to him and told him I wanted the job. God put it in front of me,” she said.

Thennes believes parish nursing is important because the nurses can address spirituality as well as other issues. “That is so important,” she noted. “We look at the whole picture of the mind, body and spirit.”

The parish has a wellness committee that assists Thennes in promoting wellness. “Mary (Fritch) and I are doing a walking program again. The wellness committee helps me promote it and sign people up. The committee also brainstorms ways to introduce wellness into the parish.”

Besides receiving support from the current pastor, Father Tim Sheedy, and the wellness committee, Thennes also meets monthly at Trinity with other parish nurses. They talk about spirituality and health needs and attend conferences to keep up with continuing education and licensing requirements. Trinity also provides resources for programs the parish nurses may want to offer.

Thennes is a mentor to Fritch, who finished her first year as Holy Family’s parish nurse earlier this year. Fritch, who completed the parish nursing program through Trinity, is employed 10 hours per week at Holy Family. She retired from acute care nursing with 43 years of experience in a variety of specialties.

Parish nursing “is a wonderful asset to every church,” she said. “We have the opportunity to visit with parishioners at home, hospital or church situations. During this time, the parish nurse can listen, help the parishioner with blood pressures, teach health information specific to their situation and involve the mind, body and spirit realm of nursing. 

“Even though the nurse does not do hands-on nursing procedures, our interaction with the parishioners and their families are valuable through teaching, research of a problem or offering prayer and support.”

She keeps parishioners informed in weekly parish bulletins, makes posters and talks at church suppers on health-related topics.

The parish’s wellness committee has been involved with various projects such as assisting with sign-up for the “Walking with Jesus Challenge” with Our Lady of Lourdes, and the flu and pneumonia shot clinic in the fall and the Holy Family health fair in April.

“Our Prayer Shawl Ministry that started two months ago has been a blessing to the participants and shawl recipients with prayers offered throughout the knitting or crocheting process and on presentation of the shawl to our parishioners,” Fritch said.

Pacha works full-time as an employee health nurse in Genesis Health Systems’ human relations department, plus eight hours a week at Our Lady of Victory. Cheryl Wagner also serves as a paid parish nurse there. Pacha went through Genesis’ parish nursing program in 2007. She appreciates the monthly meetings Genesis offers.

“Jesus healed spiritually and physically. Parish nurses are in a position to provide and promote health promotion and healthy spirituality,” Pacha said. Needs in parishes vary, she continued. She and Wagner work with their pastor, Msgr. James Parizek, to learn about changing needs.

Wagner, a charter member of the parish, started its parish nurse program. “I remember watching some of our elderly folks just suddenly stop coming to Mass and I was very concerned. I thought, ‘I wonder who checks on them at home?’ Then I heard about parish nursing and began to check into it, to see if that might be an answer.” 

She did not plan on becoming a parish nurse. “I just wanted to start the wellness committee.” When no one came forward to be parish nurse she decided to “fill in.” That was in 2003 and “I’m still filling in,” said Wagner who also teaches online graduate nursing courses and is the director of the new nursing administrator/executive program for Southern University in Savannah, Ga.

“Parish nursing is a very important method of monitoring and keeping in touch with the parishioners’ health needs on a different level than purely spiritual. While we address spiritual needs, we tie this into the health needs of the person, too. 

“I find that if I am offering to do some health education or checking on a person physically, they are more likely to allow me to bring them spiritual comfort too. This also works in reverse. Sometimes you need to know how a person is doing physically, and by bringing them Communion or offering to come pray with them, you can also check their physical needs.”

Wagner and Pacha work with the parish’s wellness committee. “Our projects include blood pressure clinics, health fairs, blood drives, educational offerings and handouts after Mass, grief support groups and of course home/nursing home/hospital visits,” Wagner added.

Castel has been in nursing for more than 40 years with Genesis and its predecessor. She retired several years ago, and volunteers as a parish nurse at the cathedral. She took parish nursing courses through St. Ambrose University. “That was more than 10 years ago.” Since that time, she noted, area hospitals have developed programs that offer more support and guidelines on parish nursing than when she went through the program. She has been doing parish nursing at the cathedral on and off for years and would like to see the program develop more at the cathedral.

Ferris said he would like to offer more formal support from the diocese for parish nursing and parish health ministry. He plans to hold another parish nurse/health ministry meeting in August and invites all parish nurses to contact him at or (563) 324-1912, ext. 269.

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