Clinical Pastoral Education

By Reader Paul Varchola West

As part of Priestly Formation at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary, seminarians are required to participate in what is known as Clinical Pastoral Education, commonly referred to as C.P.E.  This program allows individuals to attain skills in hospital chaplaincy through participation in an intensive clinical (professional) internship. This summer, along with fellow Eparchy of Passaic seminarian Reader Timothy Farris, I was fortunate enough to have been a participant in the C.P.E. program at U.P.M.C. Shadyside (Pittsburgh) Hospital.

C.P.E. is a clinical internship foundational in my priestly formation. A great deal of what is learned pertains to the nuts and bolts of day to day hospital workings. One is afforded the opportunity to work along the medical staff, learning a great deal about medical treatments but also about bedside manner and how that, at times, is just as helpful as the treatments themselves. There were times when medical staff would ask me how a patient is doing or ask if I had any insight as to what could help this patient either spiritually or emotionally. Chaplaincy is a truly valued resource for both spiritual and medical needs. My C.P.E. experience allowed me to see an aspect of the medical world that one does not often get to witness. Additionally, one attends various staff meetings, participates in clinical case studies, learns about patient charting and how to read medical charts including basic privacy laws and professional boundaries as well as simply how to navigate a hospital and to become familiar in an acute care setting.

Most significantly, C.P.E. is an ecumenical experience in which one encounters people from every imaginable faith background – from Catholics to Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Atheists to the fallen away and unchurched – as well as age, race, and socioeconomic status. In the pastoral visit, one must exemplify both Scripture and the teachings of Jesus Christ through actions, compassion, understanding, love, and forgiveness. The intern becomes a hand to hold, a listening ear, a fellow with whom to laugh, a shoulder on which to cry and, most importantly, becomes someone to simply be present for a person who is in need of nothing more than a friend to sit with them in silence. One also learns that, at times, the pastoral visit is more for the family than for the patient.

The program at U.P.M.C. Shadyside was an intense, 400 hour program that lasted ten weeks and I am grateful for every second of my summer that was spent in that hospital. In addition to gaining professional experience, I was able to meet many great patients, many of whom I will never forget, and gained a few new friends who were my co-interns. Overall, I am truly blessed to have been a participant in a C.P.E. program and find it essential to both my Seminary experience and my future ministry.


Editor’s note:  Both C.P.E. interns, Paul Varchola West and Timothy Fariss were ordained readers by their bishop, His Grace, Kurt Burnette of Passaic, on the 5th of August.

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