Eucharistic ministers needed to serve the sick

Deacon Phillip Noltemeyer knocked on a patient’s door at UofL Hospital during one of his rounds to take Communion to the sick Sept. 12. Deacon Noltemeyer is encouraging individuals to become involved with this ministry, which is in need of volunteers. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

When Deacon Phillip Noltemeyer administers the Eucharist at the bedside of a UofL Hospital patient, many times a visible sense of relief washes over the recipient, he said.

He has served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion for close to three decades, and he’s encouraging members of the faithful to join him in what he calls a “wonderful ministry.”

As a recipient of the Eucharist during a hospital stay, he knows what a difference it makes. “When I was in the hospital, it was a relief that Jesus Christ was with me. It made me feel a calmness,” he said during a recent interview. “You can see it in the patients, they get a relief.”

More volunteers are needed to administer the sacrament, he said. During the height of the pandemic and the months following, eucharistic ministers weren’t allowed in the hospitals. Now that the hospitals are open, some ministers have not returned.

His former group of six volunteers is down to three, he said. Between them, they provide the Eucharist about seven times a month at UofL Hospital. He serves every Friday. Another minister serves twice a month and one serves once a month.

He’d like to have eucharistic ministers there every day. For now, he said, he’d be happy to add at least four more to the team who can serve weekly or bi-weekly.

Volunteers, he said, quickly realize, “It’s a wonderful ministry.”

Patients face a host of unknowns during a hospital stay, he noted.

Some wonder, “Am I going to get better? … You can feel lost and abandoned,” he said. That’s especially true for individuals who are there alone.

When a minister brings Communion, “You take that moment and realize, ‘He’s (Jesus is) with me.’ He’s here to allow me the comfort of his grace to face what will happen,” said Deacon Noltemeyer. “You realize the church is there.”

Dr. Karen Shadle, director of the Office of Worship, helps form ministers who serve the sick and homebound. Shadle said there are generally many ministers who serve during Mass; the need is at hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The first step for eucharistic ministers who would like to serve the sick is to speak with their pastor or a chaplain who oversees the ministry at a particular site, she said during a recent interview. With the proper formation, these ministers can also start taking Communion to members of their parish who are hospitalized.

Deacon Phillip Noltemeyer walked down the hall on his way to take Communion to a patient at UofL Hospital Sept. 12. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Training is provided through the Archdiocese of Louisville Family and Life Ministries Office. The six-session program prepares individuals to provide pastoral care to the sick and covers a variety of topics. One of the topics is taking Communion to the sick and homebound. Shadle is the presenter on that topic, which covers a variety of issues pertaining to serving in hospitals including:

  • Hospital procedures.
  • What to do if a patient is unresponsive.
  • What to do if a patient is asleep or a nurse comes in when a minister is with a patient.
  • How to handle requests for other sacraments.
  • Serving patients unable to swallow.

Shadle said some hospitals require additional volunteer training and that’s arranged through the particular hospital.

The current pastoral care training program started this week. Instruction is held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 508 Breckenridge Lane, on consecutive Thursdays through Oct. 20. Participants can still join in to attend one or all of the remaining sessions.

Joan Nitzken, a member of St. Stephen Martyr Church, wants people to know that “you come out feeling like you’ve received more than you’ve given. It’s such a rewarding ministry. The people are hungry for it.”

Reflecting on her ministry that began in the early 1980s, Nitzken recalled visiting a particular patient who was unconscious at the time, but the family members who were present received Communion. Nitzken prayed with them and at the sound of the Lord’s Prayer, the unconscious woman opened her eyes and asked for Communion. After consulting with a nurse, Nitzken said she gave the woman a tiny piece of the host.

A few days later, Nitzken said, the patient died. At moments like that, she realizes the depth of the ministry, she said.

“It’s an opportunity to minister to those who need it so desperately,” she said.

For those who might be intimidated by the task, she explained that volunteers receive a list of Catholic patients in the facility and a minister typically spends about an hour and a half giving Communion, she said.

“Nobody is sent on the floor until they’re comfortable with it,” she noted, adding that ministers may also serve in pairs if they prefer.

“It’s time well spent. I know that people are busy, but we were busy back then, too,” when she started volunteering, she said. “When God gives you much, he expects much.”

Following an illness, Nitzken is no longer able to walk hospital floors, she said. She spends her time serving at an information desk and training other ministers to navigate the hospital.

For more information or to register for any of the archdiocesan training sessions, contact Denise Puckett in the Family and Life Ministries Office, at 636-0296, ext. 1268, or dpuckett@archlou.org.

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