Chaplain gives spiritual care to the victims of gun violence

The Rev. Carol Reese, an Episcopal priest and hospital chaplain, cares for victims of gun violence at a Chicago hospital.

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John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County operates one of the busiest trauma centers in the country. The Chicago hospital has hundreds of physicians, medical residents and fellows on its staff but only one employee with the title of violence prevention coordinator and the word “chaplain” on her name badge.

Many of the patients the Rev. Carol Reese sees face a crisis of faith as much as a medical crisis, especially teenagers injured by gunfire.

“These kids are just trying to hold on to whatever bit of hope in life that they can,” Reese, 60, an Episcopal priest said in an interview last month at the hospital. “For some of them, their faith helps. For some of them, it gets pretty shaken in the midst of all of this.”

Reese will share her insights into communities traumatized by gun violence and public health approaches to violence reduction at a conference this week in Chicago held by Bishops United Against Gun Violence. “Unholy Trinity: The Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence” is being held at the Lutheran School of Theology from April 20 to 22 in Hyde Park.

Reese brings a patient-centered approach to her work as a chaplain, knowing that spiritual issues are alive to many people even if they have little or no connection to a faith community.

Reese, a Kentucky native, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work before starting her first, five-year providing pastoral care at Stroger in 1986. She returned to the trauma center at Stroger in 2005 at a time when the hospital was responding to the results of focus groups held with young men who had been treated in the trauma center. They had been asked what factors aided in their recovery.

“Almost to a person, those young men told the interviewers that the thing that helped them get through their violent injury was their faith,” said Reese, who was ordained in 2010 in a move to bring more liturgical and sacramental pieces to her work.

She’s conscious, however, that society – and the patients she typically sees – are becoming less and less religious, hence her preference for the term “spiritual care” over more religious language. Even patients without strong roots in a faith tradition grasp the underlying spiritual concepts.

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