Parish nurses provide physical and spiritual care

Nicholas Pizana | The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — It’s no doubt parish nurses play a vital role in maintaining the wellbeing of members of their community. National Nursing Week, which runs from May 6-12, honors the service of nurses, and in the case of Catholicism, there is a specific attention for parish nurses.

Parish nursing has roots as far back as the 1800s, when many religious orders began caring for the ill in their surrounding communities. In modern times, parish nurses are qualified, with a background in nursing, and use their background to focus on a specific parish community. As one of the fastest-growing specialties for nurses recognized by the American Nurses Association, there are an estimated 15,000 practicing parish nurses nationwide, and although their methods have changed in the past two centuries, their mission has not.

“They provide health care advocacy, and educational resources for parishioners on a regular basis,” said Joyce Hyttinen, a Christian service coordinator for the Archdiocese of Detroit. According to Hyttinen, these services help patients find out what health options are available to them.

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, the parish nursing program is supported by the annual Catholic Services Appeal, which begins this weekend.

Parish nurses are often multi-faceted, performing a wide range of duties in their communities.

“We are faith-based; we take the holistic approach with our congregates,” said Sheila Cushing, who has worked with St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital for nearly three years, but has been involved as a parish nurse since 1999. Many parish nurses coordinate their care with Catholic hospitals, working together and receiving training from hospitals.

“We can do teaching and training; we can do blood pressure screening. The only thing we don’t do is any direct hands-on care or invasive procedures on people,” Cushing said.

Although they can’t perform services such as surgeries, parish nurses still help to provide critical care.

“We’re health counselors, we’re health educators, we run blood pressure clinics, we do stroke screenings. Each church does something a little different,” Cushing said. Other duties include diabetes screening and nutrition education, she said.

In addition to providing care, parish nurses at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland follow the tradition of helping nearby communities, reaching out to several churches in Oakland County as well as communities in the city of Pontiac.

According to Hyttinen, one of the specific ways parishes reach out to communities is through annual health fairs, which parish nurses often coordinate as a way of connecting people with necessary health-care options.

Parish nurses are able to foster religious well-being in their patients, in addition to physical healing.

“A big part of what we do is also spiritual, too,” Cushing said. “We also have the capability to pray with our parishioners or our congregators too, because some people don’t have that opportunity. We are faith-based so that’s a big portion of what we do. The body, the mind, and the spirit.”

For qualified nurses looking to get involved with parish nursing, Cheyne advised getting in touch with your local parish.


For parishes seeking a nurse, contact Joyce Hyttinen at the Archdiocese of Detroit, (313) 237-5905.