by MICHAEL OTTO
HAMILTON — In 1978, the Catholic Church had three popes and Jimmy Carter was president of the United States of America.
It is also the year Sr Carmel Horan, RNDM, thinks she might have started working as a chaplain at Waikato Hospital in Hamilton. Sr Carmel isn’t sure exactly when she started, but she thinks it was 35 years ago.
Sr Carmel’s work has been recognised with a Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Pope Francis. It was conferred at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton at a Mass on August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“It couldn’t really settle into my mind that it was really happening. It blows you away, I guess,” Sr Carmel said, adding that she was delighted so many from the hospital were at the Mass.
She first started visiting the hospital after her superiors among the Sisters of the Mission thought this work would be suitable, given her experience in
caring for elderly sisters.
“I wasn’t overly keen, I think, and they said go for one year.”
One year has turned into many. Three and a half decades later, Sr Carmel loves her work. Asked what the best thing about it is, she replied: “The privilege of serving God through the hospital. Meeting people — they are so lovely and we are working with such lovely staff.”
Sr Carmel has tried to encourage staff in recent times, with big changes in their workplace underway. The Waikato District Health Board has been undertaking a $430 million building and redevelopment programme at Waikato and Thames Hospitals, due to finish next year.
A member of the multi-denominational chaplaincy team at the hospital, Sr Carmel is a well recognised figure around the wards. Patients wanting to talk to her call out “sister” from their beds.
“We say we are there for anyone and everyone,” she said.
Hospital chaplaincy brings the full range of joys and sorrows.
You experience them all, often within a few hours, because it is such a big hospital, she said.
“You can have three people
dying more or less at the same time. Not too frequently, that number in one day, but you can.”
Down the years, it has not been uncommon for patients who first met Sr Carmel a long time ago, asking for her again.
“You see these ladies, you saw them when they were babies,
and now they have babies. . . . [Patients] say to the nurse, do you know if Sr Carmel is still here?” Sr Carmel said.
“Well she is doing something around the place,” she said with a laugh.
Sr Carmel resumed work a few days after receiving her award. She had been away after having a fall.
A recipient of a Queens Service Medal for Services to the Community in 1995, Sr Carmel has no immediate plans for retirement.
“That could happen any time,
I realise, you don’t know. Only the big man up there knows.”