Father Lawrence Schulmeister
was once asked to baptize a baby.
A few months before, Father Schulmeister
had comforted the baby's father as he
left this world after a sudden accident.As a chaplain at R. Adams Crowley Shock Trauma
at the University of Maryland Medical Center
in downtown Baltimore, Father Schulmeister
is often called upon to provide special and urgent ministry to patients and families in sudden need.
Often the initial ministry is to the family of the patient.With the doctors and nurses busy treating the injured person, they aren't available to talk with the family so Father Schulmeister
goes on rounds in the trauma emergency room on weekday afternoons."It helps that someone is with them," Father Schulmeister
said, noting that he
tries to get a sense of what needs the families have
"WHAT'S PROBABLY UNIQUE or special about Trauma is that the patients who come here for the most part are patients who weren't sick before but now are suddenly critically ill, and that's difficult for a lot of people to deal with," Father Schulmeister
is called upon for comfort, presence and prayer but also to "relieve guilt" by imparting forgiveness or reassuring a patient when they think the accident happened because of something they did wrong in the past.Father Schulmeister
can encourage them and also give them the opportunity to go to confession, something that often becomes "very meaningful" during a time of distress, he
Confession is just one part of anointing of the sick, "prayers of hope and comfort" that a priest says over a sick person.Anointing of the sick was once referred to as "last rites" or "extreme unction" and sometimes only asked for by families when someone was at death's door.
Even now, Father Schulmeister
said, families are sometimes hesitant to ask for a priest, thinking that his
presence means that death is imminent.But anointing of the sick is made up of prayers for healing, forgiveness and commendation to God's care and can be used for anyone who is seriously ill.
MOST OF THE PATIENTS at Shock Trauma have been in accidents or are victims of violence, and all are "critically injured."Father Schulmeister
is given a list of patients listed as Catholic and also gets referrals from other chaplains, nurses and doctors. The Franciscan priest, who is also a weekend assistant at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park and a professor at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore, emphasized that his ministry is just "a piece" of the patients' recovery process, which also includes the resources of their home parish community.
Because of patient confidentiality, Father Schulmeister
can't tell specific stories about what he's
seen at Shock Trauma.But in general he
said that in his
21 years as a chaplain, he's
seen a lot of sorrow, hope and, even though he's
reluctant to use the word miracle, what he
calls "amazing turnarounds."
One that he
remembers is a 17-year-old girl who was very critically injured, and her
chances of recovering, medically speaking, were extremely slim.The family was very prayerful and never let go of hope.And one day when Father Schulmeister
went in to visit her
, there was a glimmer of hope.She
went on to make a full recovery.
Asked how he
handles such an emotionally demanding ministry, Father Schulmeister
said, "I'd rather be doing this than something less significant or less emotional.When I leave the hospital, I don't forget it immediately, but I forget it soon ...I need to leave it."