Five weeks into my long experiment at Manchester and it feels like my feet have finally touched the ground in this exciting city and home to the Province’s newest Jesuit community. Since I arrived I’ve been thrown into all kinds of activities: developing my DIY skills (i.e. helping set up our Jesuit accommodation), assisting Tim Byron SJ with some of the student chaplaincy activities (more of that in later blogs) and getting to grips with hospital chaplaincy work.
The Manchester Royal Infirmary (“MRI”) has over a thousand beds and occupies a site resembling a mini city, incorporating a children’s hospital, a specialist maternity unit, and an eye hospital. It represents a formidable “apostolic canvas” to work with in terms of the breadth of ministry to patients, families and staff.
I’m working closely alongside the Catholic chaplain, Fr. David Egan, a Salford Diocesan priest who has been an MRI chaplain for many years and prior to that worked in the hospital as a psychiatric nurse. He’s probably the best known person in the place; the hospital is really his parish.
I’ve also assisted in a few emergency baptisms. One particularly beautiful baptism stands out. The father of the child of a baby born prematurely with complications spotted us in the corridor. This happens often – whilst most of our visits result from an advance request from the patient or relatives, many encounters simply happen due to the chaplain being in the right place at the right time. Being called over to the bed of someone who has not spoken about their faith for years is one of the special graces of being a hospital chaplain. After discussing with both parents, it was agreed that we should baptize the tiny boy. In spite of his being confined to an incubator, connected by various tubes, surrounded by flashing lights, various bleeping sounds and the coming and goings of the medical staff, nothing disturbed the peace of the baptism ritual. There is no such thing as a typical day in hospital chaplaincy. When “on call” you’re constantly available to visit those in danger of death. Being present at an anointing of a dying patient and leading the prayers for the family gathered around the bed is a particularly powerful experience.
When visiting patients, I often ask whether they would like me to pray with them. One thing that I have been struck by is that their prayer intentions are very often not for themselves but for others, whether family members who are also ill or for their friends. The hospital is a challenging place, but so far I’ve experienced many graces.