Day in the Life - Sister Monica
Sister Monica Okon, HHCJ, is a member of the Pastoral Care Department at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. She grew up in Nigeria and committed herself to the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, a religious order. At St. Francis, Sister has had the privilege of serving in ministry with fellow sisters from other religious communities, especially the hospital founding community—The Franciscan Missionary of Mary, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood and The Dominicans Sisters of Sparkill, NY. She has been at St. Francis for close to two years and has quickly become a recognizable and beloved presence by patients and staff. Sr. Monica is known for her positive energy and motivational presence. She allowed us to follow her schedule for a day.
Sister Monica starts her mornings in the hospital with Mass in the St. Francis chapel, focusing her attention on those patients who she’s going to spend time with during the week. “I bring my patients to Mass not physically, but remembering those who are hurting physically and emotionally and offer their needs to God.”
Following Mass, members of the Pastoral Care Department regroup to discuss the mission and focus for the day. “Our morning huddle helps us to come together and say that we are not doing this all by ourselves. Someone shares a reflection, a prayer or something inspirational, and we take that with us as motivation when we start our rounds.”
Sister Monica covers several units throughout the hospital. She works closely with the interdisciplinary staff to coordinate her visits with patients’ needs for testing and procedures. The very sick and the dying are also within her scope of care. “We want every patient to be seen by a chaplain within 24 hours, so I make getting to know our new patients a priority.”
“Most of the time, patients and families just want to be heard. When they feel heard, they feel supported in their most vulnerable time in life. I praise the doctors, nurses and all the staff in their respective areas of expertise. They take very good care of the body, the physical needs of patients, but we sometimes forget that we are made up of body, mind, and spirit. I am privileged to help care for the whole person by attending to the spiritual needs. Most people do not understand what being spiritual means, so they conclude that I am coming to talk about religion. At the end of the visit, they realize that all I did was to provide active listening and a supportive presence that enabled them to feel cared for. They become very grateful and request for future visits.“
Our staff is a blessing, and I want them to know that I see them when they are tired, and I ask them how their day is going and if they need help with anything. I want them to laugh or smile or just take a breath whenever it is possible. I want them to know they are not alone, and I love their positive attitude toward their work. I bless them and offer words of encouragement when they face a difficult situation.
Requests for communion happen throughout the day. If a patient requests a visit because they are confined to bed, Sister Monica comes to them. “The best part of my day that brings me joy and encouragement in this ministry is when a patient asks me to pray with them. At the end of the shared prayer I often hear these comments, ‘I really needed that.’ That brings me so much joy and encouragement. Some patients say, ‘I attend Mass everyday and thought I would miss receiving Communion in the hospital. At other times, patients become emotional and say a spiritual presence means so much. The very thought of coming to see me is a big help and blessing to me.
”Staff and patients alike love Sister Monica’s warm smile and big hugs.
“I enjoy being with people and seeing them accept who they are at that moment. When they come into the hospital, they may feel helpless, but by the time they go home, they are strong. They attribute the energy they are going home with to God and the committed effort of the staff.
Whatever we do as religious sisters in our various ministries at St. Francis Hospital, we do it with love and compassion. It is a privilege for me, I believe I can speak for others that we are grateful to be a part of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ through CHS. For this reason, I am a chaplain for all people respecting all faiths, races and culture.
At the end of the day, Sister Monica is drained. “It can be very emotional sometimes. It can be exhausting, so I always ask God for strength and debrief with colleagues. When I leave the hospital, I still think of some of the patients and staff, but I offer them to God during evening prayer. It helps me to know that this is where God wants me to be at the moment. God is using us, the sisters to reach out to his people. We are God’s loving and caring presence. He is helping people through the work of the Catholic Sisters.”