Parish nurses and health ministers take care of body, mind and spirit



By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Faith community nursing provides a much-needed service in parishes around the Diocese of Davenport, and a training opportunity begins this month for people interested in serving as a parish nurse or health minister.

“Spirituality is part of our being. Taking care of the body, mind and spirit is what parish nursing and health ministry is about,” said Linda Guebert, parish nurse manager at UnityPoint-Trinity in Rock Island, Ill.

Linda Guebert
Patty Riefe, parish nurse at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, checks in with a parishioner by phone.

Faith community nursing encompasses parish nurses and health ministers and works alongside visiting nurses, physicians and family members. “We are a supportive presence through difficult times, end of life and grief stages. We connect with pastors,” Guebert said. Some faith community nursing programs also have side activities such as prayer shawl ministry.


In a hospital or nursing home setting, nurses do not have time to sit with a patient to hold their hand, pray, recite the rosary or just talk. When someone is discharged from the hospital and has no one at home, “we can help coordinate care,” she added. That might mean helping to arrange for transportation, meals, explaining instructions from a pharmacist or physician, or education. “We are not home care nurses. We cannot administer an IV or change wound dressings. We are there for care of the spirit,” Guebert said. Faith community nursing ministers can be alert to changes in the individual needing care. Maybe the person is falling more often or forgets to turn the stove off.

To be a parish nurse, an individual must be a registered nurse with an active license in the state in which he/she practices. A health minister can be a certified nursing assistant, physical therapist, radiation technician or someone who has an interest in the mind, body and soul of people.

Both types of health ministers must go through an official training course, which UnityPoint offers for interested individuals in Iowa and Illinois. (Genesis Health System no longer offers a training program.) UnityPoint’s program is valid in both Iowa and Illinois.

Some parishes have more than one parish nurse and/or health minister. Each can specialize in an area. For example, one radiation technician focused on people diagnosed with cancer. Another specialist focused on walking, yoga and balance programs.

Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport has a parish nurse, Carol Burns, and health ministers Bonnie Beyl and Char McGovern. Burns said she got into faith community nursing as her work in the operating room was taking a physical toll after 40 years. “When I saw the position opening in the parish bulletin, I knew it was where I was to go next.”

Her role as parish nurse also pays tribute to her mother and mother-in-law. “These two women were dedicated ‘church basement ladies’ who as they grew older and more infirm were forgotten by their home parishes. I do this work in honor of them so OLV can make sure all of our parishioners are visited and their health care is optimized by me as their advocate.”

Because OLV is a large parish, it is important to share responsibilities with the pastor pertaining to hospital visits and sharing information about parishioners’ health and well-being. “I believe the most important thing I do for our parishioners is to sit and listen to their story. It’s a true joy of mine to listen to these life stories. “

As parish nurse, she also advocates for and educates people from cradle to grave. “I do not do hands on nursing but arrange, recommend and evaluate health care for parishioners. I offer support with a casserole and prayer shawl when needed, along with arranging for sacrament of the sick as requested.”

McGovern said she entered faith community nursing to make a difference in an elderly person’s recovery, to be of assistance to a dying parishioner, to welcome a new baby, and to help people of any age to “not feel so alone.”

As a health advocate, she makes hospital and home visits, advocates for parishioners, takes them meals, sits with them when they have no family present and gives them Communion, along with a parish bulletin. She also prays for people who are sick and makes phone calls and send cards to parishioners who have lost a loved one.

Anyone can become a health advocate, McGovern said, but it is helpful to have a background in a medical field. “I would encourage anyone interested to take the class and find out more. If you are at a crossroads or near retirement but want to make a difference, go find out. … It could be the best thing that has happened to you!”

The next training course for faith community nursing will be held Aug. 29, Sept. 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26, Oct. 1, 3 and 8 from 6-9 p.m. at UnityPoint Trinity in Rock Island, Ill. Cost is $300. Contact hours can be earned. For more information or to register by Aug. 16 contact Guebert at (309) 779-5122 or visit

Celebrate 30 years of faith community nursing

UnityPoint Trinity will celebrate 30 years of faith community nursing Nov. 14 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Gerber Center on the Augustana College campus in Rock Island, Ill. The Rev. Scott Morris, founder and chief executive officer of Church Health in Memphis, will be the keynote speaker. Church Health, which opened in 1987, provides quality, affordable healthcare for working, uninsured people and their families. A meal will be served. For more information or to register contact Linda Guebert at or call (309) 779-5122.

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