HealthCare Chaplaincy Oral History
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This comprehensive oral history of HealthCare Chaplaincy is a journey of the spirit.

It presents, in their own words, the stories of more than thirty people whose ideas, energy and spiritual concerns have contributed to HCC's becoming a force for vision and change for an issue that reaches into the deepest meaning of human experience. read more »

Earlier, care for the sick and dying was accepted to be the responsibility of local clergy for their own congregants. Few were trained to carry out this difficult role for everyone - regardless of their faith or beliefs or affiliations.

Since that beginning, HealthCare Chaplaincy has educated and trained multifaith professional chaplains who serve in Metropolitan New York health care facilities and has helped to establish standards of chaplaincy as a profession. HealthCare Chaplaincy plays a national role in the development and recognition of professional chaplaincy as a full member of the medical team, essential to responding to the whole person - body, mind, and spirit - in times of crisis.

The stories of these people teach us that we are more alike than different in our fundamental human vulnerabilities and valor.Their voices and images are accounts, and models - a road map, as it were - for those wishing to learn about multifaith chaplaincy care or to add to and participate in the part professional chaplains play in improved outcomes in healthcare. Revealed here are the personalities and talents; expressions of management skill, problems and testimony; personal life, experiences, and evidence of effective institutional and individual growth.

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President, CEO
Father Walter Smith
President, CEO
The world has changed, and I think we’re smart enough to recognize that the landscape is altered. But we’re not intimidated about the horizon ahead. I think what I bring to this is an equanimity of spirit about it. I’m not intimidated by the future, and I think we have something worthy to offer that future that will make it better. We have been blessed in many ways already in this work, and we come with enormous strengths into that future.
Life Trustee, Former Co-President
Rev. John D. Twiname
Life Trustee, Former Co-President
Once we got through with the integration of and the building of a team, staff team, with Jewish and Christian clergy, I received this call from a Muslim imam, who said he felt on the outside. “How do you get into these hospitals? How do we get to see our people?”
Life Trustee, Former Co-President
Carolyn Twiname
Life Trustee, Former Co-President
I said, “I think I would. It’s putting together so many pieces of my life, from my interest in healthcare, my desire to be a doctor, and my love of taking something that is very small and building it into something larger and more meaningful.” I’ve done that along the way. So I said to him, “I’d really like to do that.”
Life trustee, former Board Chairman
Bill Donnell
Life trustee, former Board Chairman
You know, chaplaincy, I said to you, I’m convinced it’s half gift and half acquired skill. If you don’t have the gift, I don’t think it can be taught you. It’s like a great actor. It is genuinely, I believe, a God-given gift, but it needs to be disciplined and honed, and you need to get your own self out of the way of it, and you have to learn to be very clear about who you are in this. You know, I’m not a savior. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a therapist. But I am prepared to share a journey with people, and I’m prepared to let them be them, wherever they are.
Vice President, Pastoral Care Leadership and Practice
Rev. George Handzo
Vice President, Pastoral Care Leadership and Practice
So I left the congregation and went to what I’d always knew I would do if I left the parish, which was go back to CPE and do a residency at Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and was there for a year and finished my units of CPE, thought about being a CP supervisor, and decided I really wanted to be a pediatric chaplain. That was where my calling was, and, fortunately, I had a supervisor who was very enabling rather than—you know, he was the kind that said, “Why not,” rather than, “Why,” you know. “Why would you want to do that?” “Well, why not,” he said.
Life Trustee
Edith C. Bjornson
Life Trustee
It’s one of the things I hope will come out of this oral history, that if one took some of these experiences and organized them so as to do this, there is much to teach young chaplains in the personas, in the experiences of some of the people who have participated in this oral history.
Life trustee, former Board Chairman
Rabbi Harlan Wechsler
Life trustee, former Board Chairman
It was also a world that had a sense of mystery, which was very pointedly absent from the world that I was growing up in. The world that I grew up in was a world which believed in the certain era of scientific blessedness. It was almost a messianic idea that once we would really work out the details of understanding scientific reality, all of the problems of the world would disappear. I never thought that was true. Now I know it’s definitely not true, but I never thought, even then when I was little, that there was any truth to that. I always thought that there was much more truth in things that were somehow poetic, and interesting because they took you partly out of that world.
Chaplain, P.B.V.M. (Roman Catholic)
Sister Elaine Goodell
Chaplain, P.B.V.M. (Roman Catholic)
First of all, I think a chaplain is a person involved joyously and fearlessly in the struggles of the world, in the sadness of the world. Secondly, I think a chaplain is a professional listener and a caring person, and what a gift to offer to a patient who is suffering and who needs care. And it’s also about relationships. Translating that over. In that CPE, that’s what you’re building up, a relationship with your peers and so forth. Because life is about relationships, and that discovery. There’s nothing more wonderful than these little lights of discovery in your life. You’ve experienced it? You have?
Life Trustee, Lifetime Achievement Award
Dr. Samuel C. Klagsbrun
Life Trustee, Lifetime Achievement Award
Even in those days, I remember having an argumentative relationship with God. I wasn’t happy with the way he was running the world, and identified enormously with Job. I always felt that Job should have really challenged God and argued with him. I feel he was much too passive. To this day I actually think that.
Former Board member, Psychiatrist, specialist in psychology of cancer
Dr. Jimmy Holland
Former Board member, Psychiatrist, specialist in psychology of cancer
“Don’t go into cancer. There’s no science in it. You know, there’s only science in cardiology and diabetes, and this is a bad field.” And patients were shunned on the floors, I mean, because nobody felt they could do anything for them. It was really devastating. You knew on a floor you were with patients with other diseases, and they were just not given the same attention, I mean the same kind of psychological attention. Yes, their physical problems were met, but I think everybody had this despairing, fatalistic feeling about them. They perceived it, and the staff did. You know, again, patients weren’t given their diagnosis, so they knew they had something terrible. It was so terrible you couldn’t even talk about it back in those days.
Early supporter, Psychiatrist
Dr. Sally Severino
Early supporter, Psychiatrist
But one point that I forgot to mention was the end of the story about my religious background, which kind of came full circle when I moved to New Mexico—which is where this necklace is from—because there, looking for a Catholic parish, I was very disappointed in how—well, they just seemed dead to me. And I found an Episcopal parish which wonderfully combined all of my Protestant family biblical background with the liturgy and the traditions of the Catholic Church. And so that’s where I am now, and it’s only been in my sixties that I really feel there’s been an integration of these two separate paths of searching that I experienced.
Psychiatrist, Professor, Chairman, Department Psychiatry Weill Medical College, Cornell University
Dr. Jack Barchus
Psychiatrist, Professor, Chairman, Department Psychiatry Weill Medical College, Cornell University
Well, death is a hard one. Now that I’m in my sixties, I sort of feel, you know, another thirty years inserted just about now wouldn’t be bad an extension. Do you know what I mean? Because one’s learned enough to be able to actually be able to take advantage of it. But the reality of it is that as one sage said, life is hard and then you die. And people are able to deal with that in different ways, and the pain of it can be very difficult, no matter when it happens.
Life trustee, former Board Chairman
William G. Spears
Life trustee, former Board Chairman
Well, you know, I’ve heard other trustees say this. The Chaplaincy, on the surface, is a simple proposition, but the interplay between education of student chaplains, the chaplaincy service itself at the hospitals, and now research is quite complicated. And I found that for the first six months or a year, it was really a question of orientation. At that time the Chaplaincy had no home of its own to speak of. The endowment was very small. The organization was expanding in the sense that new hospitals were being added regularly, so it seemed to be a thriving organization.
Staff Chaplain, (Muslim)
Al-Hajji Imam Yusuf H. Hasan
Staff Chaplain, (Muslim)
As I grew older, about sixteen years old, we migrated here to New York, and my grandmother stayed there. I was introduced by a friend of mine to come to a temple, to hear a Muslim clergyman speak. And when I went, it was so quiet and peaceful that I right away, I accepted to become a Muslim, not because of what was being said; it was the quietness, the place. I probably could have been a good Catholic or a good Protestant if I’d have been to a church that particular day. But it was a temple, and from that day forward I’ve been a practicing Muslim.
Life Trustee, (Lutheran)
Rev. John Damm
Life Trustee, (Lutheran)
We’re not a little sectarian outfit anymore, so therefore we could understand why you had troubles trying to relate with us as a Fruit and Bible Protestant League organization. We now represent the spectrum of the major religions of the city and we worked together in our Chaplaincy and we’re prepared to be that arm for you in your hospital.
CPE Supervisor (Zen Buddhist)
Rev. Trudi Jinpu Hirsch
CPE Supervisor (Zen Buddhist)
So this clowning and mask thing, another great lesson of that was being in the moment, because to be a clown, not in the way of a circus clown, but he taught clowning the way it was to be almost like [Peter D.] Ouspensky, I mean to be totally a human, fully human, to have all your feelings and all aspects of yourself available. He taught more along those lines. And practicing clowning was practicing being in the moment, and that lesson stayed with me, later connected to my Zen Buddhist practice. So you can see how this is all moving towards the future.
Former Board member, Medical Oncologist specialist in breast cancer
Dr. Ann Moore
Former Board member, Medical Oncologist specialist in breast cancer
I think also, for instance, in my own practice, most of the time I don’t have any patients in the hospital, which is unusual for an oncology practice. It would have been unusual, I should say, ten or fifteen years ago. Now it’s true of many of us. Weeks will go by where I don’t see any patient in the hospital, and yet I have a large number of patients either in my office, we have some we’re taking care of at home. So I think the ministry of the Chaplaincy, one of the challenges is how to minister to all these patients outside the hospital, how to find them. Can’t just walk in the room. How to identify them, how to reach out to them.
Former Chief Financial Officer
Susan Fischer
Former Chief Financial Officer
So I’ve always just had this innate understanding of the value of the chaplains in the institution. You know, when you have any kind of job—because I’m doing administrative work, I’m not doing direct line of service, but whatever kind of day I’m having, I know why I’m here, and that makes a huge difference for me.
Life Trustee, Former Board Chairman
Gene Zuriff
Life Trustee, Former Board Chairman
I use the word respect. I think I used that with you at lunch today. It was just people that I respected the minute I saw them, the minute I heard them talk, what they were doing. And I had such an affinity to what they were talking about, that I had to say yes. And that’s how I consented to come on the board, and went to the first board meeting. After being on the board of the New York Public Library, where it was a huge budget and a big board, it seemed, you know, it was a rather small budget, but they were doing so much for the rather small amount of money that was being raised. It seemed like such an effective organization for what they were doing. And I served on that board for almost ten years.
Richard Kimball
So I said, “I’m not even going to listen to that until you can describe a future for which this endowment is going to support. And you haven’t done that. But when you do, we’ll listen.” But I said, “Why don’t we give you—how would you like it if we gave you some money to think through that future?” And he got his mouth open about halfway, to say, “I’m sure, sure, well, yeah—,” and Carolyn put her hand down on the table and said, “We’ll take it.”
Chairman Emeritus
Lawrence J. Toal
Chairman Emeritus
I first became affiliated with the Chaplaincy in 1995, when they ask me to receive the Wholeness of Life Award. Not knowing anything about the Chaplaincy, I wanted to do some due diligence. That was at the suggestion, I think—I’m quite sure at the suggestion of Dick Parsons. So I wanted to do some due diligence, and the more I checked out and the more I found out, discovered about the Chaplaincy, really the more intrigued I became.
Early supporter (Episcopal)
Rev. John Andrew
Early supporter (Episcopal)
The ministry of the Chaplaincy, the reason for its existence, is the spiritual care and concern and strengthening it can give to patients. People who are ill are vulnerable. They feel it. They feel isolated by their illness. They need sustenance and spiritual encouragement to help them view what it is that has landed them in hospital, to recognize something they don’t want to recognize, which may be that this illness can only have one cure, and that’s in the death of the patient. And the terror that some may feel, or the betrayal some may feel, and the loneliness that some may feel, and the anger that some may feel, and the hopelessness that some may feel has got to be attended to, and the chaplains have, in fact, got a task to bring some kind of spiritual help.
Life-Trustees and Former Co-Presidents discuss their lives together as leaders within the HealthCare Chaplaincy community
Joint Interview with John and Carolyn Twiname
Life-Trustees and Former Co-Presidents discuss their lives together as leaders within the HealthCare Chaplaincy community
Former Co-Presidents, and current President and CEO discuss their experiences as vital members and leaders of the HealthCare Chaplaincy community
A Conversation with John Twiname, Carolyn Twiname and Father Walter Smith
Former Co-Presidents, and current President and CEO discuss their experiences as vital members and leaders of the HealthCare Chaplaincy community
Former Board Chairman
Donald Keller
Former Board Chairman
Yes, we were training chaplains. I thought of the organization then as three-pronged, and the most important one being, in my mind—and I probably wasn’t exactly right—was the actual in-hospital work and service of the chaplains. But secondly, there was a need to train these chaplains, and so, I mean, you could almost look at it as a co-equal need. And there were the CPE [Clinical Pastoral Education] units being taught at that point in time. And then there was kind of a third area, which was, can we develop any research that will say, “Yes, this work that we do really does work. It really is effective, it really helps”? And so there was kind of, I’ll call it a nascent urge to see if we could become a research organization, too. And those were the three. Those were the three, as I recall, the three arms of the Chaplaincy.
Former Board Member, Philanthropist
Marty Gilbert
Former Board Member, Philanthropist
But he also believed that part of philanthropy was in a literal sense—the fact, the figures, the intellect—what was going on, but beyond this, there was a figurative sense of the creativity, the spirit, the intuition, the hope of where things were going. Dad repeated again and again that he hoped that anything that the foundation, his foundation, became involved with, that we would feel about passionately, and that without that figurative sense, the passion involvement, it was pretty dead. That was, I think, one of my first experiences of feeling that “aha!” moment was with the Chaplaincy, because here was, indeed, something that I knew how much this could affect people, because I had experienced it and this was something that I wanted to see other people have. So that’s sort of the beginning of it.
Former Board Member
Ralph Price
Former Board Member
Well, I think there was absolute--the wonderful thing is, there’s this absolute conviction, I think, with anyone associated with the Chaplaincy that its purpose is worthy, I mean it is worth whatever it takes to keep it going. I don’t think there was anyone on the board who was going to let this organization go down the tubes, no matter what it was; that we were going to continue to provide pastoral care. I think some of that’s understandable. There is an immediacy about pastoral care in hospitals. It doesn’t matter who you are; you’ve have some acquaintanceship with illness, either directly or indirectly. And if you survive the illness or you survive the losses associated with illness, it isn’t just a question of living to fight another day, it’s you’re living to suffer another day, and everyone knows that. And people who’ve benefited from pastoral care in any way are going to make sure it continues. I think you have that underlying support in the community and certainly in the board. That attitude is, “We’re not going to get torn apart by this.”
Former Executive Director, first staff CPE Supervisor (Presbyterian)
Rev. James B. Jeffrey
Former Executive Director, first staff CPE Supervisor (Presbyterian)
Oh, boy, that’s a loaded question. When I first came to the Chaplaincy, the vast potential was, I guess, the most daunting aspect of it. I remember when we were going through our accreditation process, the chair of the Accreditation Committee asked me what was the most frustrating aspect of my job, and I remember responding to him at the time, “Seeing the vast potential and not having the immediate resources to respond to that.” I think that was true throughout my tenure with the Chaplaincy.
Former Curate, Church of the Epiphany, New York City
Rev. Richard Louis
Former Curate, Church of the Epiphany, New York City
But one day, after we had developed services at the New York Hospital, Julia Sibley, who was a prime member of the Chaplaincy, was wheeling a patient back from the service to her room, and this woman was in tears. And Julia kept reassuring her on how good the surgeon was, and how good the staff was, and how things should be able to go well for her. And then she said, “Oh, no, no, no, no. No, dear, you don’t understand. I’m not worried about myself. I live with my mother, and she’s completely alone in the apartment, and I can’t afford to leave her there while I’m in the hospital having an operation.” So Julia arranged for the mother to have company during that time. This was the kind of spinoff that was always happening in the Chaplaincy. That was the prime example of it for me. It was also the need for chaplaincy clearly evinced. So that’s how the program developed.
Former Board Member
Charlotte Miller
Former Board Member
Well, first of all, when I finished my term as a deacon, I was elected to go onto the board of the Chaplaincy and we were broadening our base of the board. Many women were going to seminary, particularly in the Episcopal Church. It was a very difficult time. Although women had been ordained in the Presbyterian Church for quite a long time, they always had to serve secondary role. They were dealing with Sunday school, or they were visiting patients and that kind of thing, visiting elderly people, but they were not the leaders. Many of the women who went to seminary were rather—I think the word I want, perhaps, is aggressive, because they had to be.
Nurse, hospital administrator, Memorial Sloan Kettering, NYC
Roger Parker
Nurse, hospital administrator, Memorial Sloan Kettering, NYC
I don’t know that I’ve ever drawn that—analyzed it from that perspective, how my life might have been different if I was a doctor. I never really seriously contemplated being a doctor. I did not have either the economic or the intellectual support that I think is required if you’re going to do that. I grew up in a one-horse town; there was one doctor in the town. I was more interested in hospitals and what goes on in hospitals, and I needed to work my way through college, so it just kind of all fit.
Staff Chaplain, Pastotral Counselor (Protestant)
Rev. Thomas Willingham
Staff Chaplain, Pastotral Counselor (Protestant)
Well, one of the things that I have flirted with in my mind, actually several years ago when John and Carolyn were still more involved than they are now, was the—this was after I had finished my training in pastoral counseling and was, you know, out working and putting together places to do that work, I used to think about whether or not there could be a pastoral counseling arm of the Chaplaincy, and it would seem to me that it would be—there would be a lot of reasons how that could work. For example, again, not to certainly take advantage of people and unduly push them around, but if chaplains encountered people, let’s say, who were struggling with a chronic situation and they knew that it was causing distress in their families and so forth, then that would seem to be a ready opportunity to make a referral to a pastoral counseling situation where there could be an outpatient ongoing relationship over a longer period of time.
A Tribute to John and Carolyn Twiname, Life Trustees, Former Co-Presidents of the HealthCare Chaplaincy
"In Their Own Words"
A Tribute to John and Carolyn Twiname, Life Trustees, Former Co-Presidents of the HealthCare Chaplaincy