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Sister Laura Parker

Current ministry: chaplain resident, Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, Elmhurst, Ill.

Years in the Congregation: 4 years, 6 months

My best friend says I’m: thoughtful, kind and a good friend

Sister Laura Parker has firsthand experience with the importance of personal care when an individual is facing significant health issues.

When she was a youngster growing up in the Chicago area, she suffered from earaches and stomach pains. She also had a serious eye malady that was treatable, but required medical attention. She had to undergo surgery for that cure.

“I didn’t understand why or what this was going to mean. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know why I had to get dressed in this gown. I didn’t know why my mother and father couldn’t be with me. I just remembered there had to be an easier way for little ones to understand,” Sister Laura said.

Her experience was embedded so personally that she sought a career in nursing, but found the demands to be heavy and time consuming. She wanted to spend more time comforting people than she had available.

Now, she ministers as a chaplain at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Elmhurst, Ill. “I knew I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to offer comfort. I wanted to be able to be there when they needed me. I wanted to be sure that whatever they needed would be provided for them. Throughout my childhood, that feeling never left. It only seemed to solidify,” Sister Laura said.

When she was old enough, she served as a candy striper. Now, she works with hospice patients who are either hospitalized or in their homes. In between, she has been a nurse on a general medical floor, worked in hospice in a cancer unit, served in an intensive care unit and then worked as a parish nurse.

Her current ministry leads her to people who are facing the most challenging times of their lives.

“I’ve had nurses call me at a time when one of their patients was having a difficult time, either accepting a diagnosis or accepting that they are going to die,” Sister Laura said. “I can go in and help that person find the resources within themselves. Sometimes people don’t realize they have what they need inside. Sometimes you just need people to help pull it out. Of course, some people don’t always get there, either.”

Families, too, call upon Sister Laura when a relative is suffering, but family members face emotional challenges as well.

“I remember one patient, a male. I was asking him some difficult questions, but he was willing to answer them and trying to understand what those questions meant for him. At one point, his daughter came. We shared the Eucharist together. Then we started talking about what her father’s dying meant to her. She had a hard time answering a lot of the questions,” she said.

The man said to Sister Laura later that his daughter didn’t like the visit because she had to face challenges she didn’t want to face. He, though, thought the discussion was helpful.

I find that my chaplaincy helps define who I am as a nurse. I’m able to use my nursing in ways that I had not been able to before.
– Sister Laura

“I thought I had to give up nursing to become a chaplain. Now I find that I don’t. I find that my chaplaincy helps define who I am as a nurse,” Sister Laura said. “I’m able to use my nursing in ways that I had not been able to before. I’ve seen the dying, the illness and the healing. I’m able to give the people I minister with answers to some of their questions, like what will happen next, or what does this mean.”

Another influence in Sister Laura’s life has been an older cousin. “When she was in her teens, she decided she was going into nursing. She had her degree, but then she decided she was going to be a sister. I don’t remember the community that she joined. She stayed probably three years before she left. It seemed like my life, in some way, was patterned after hers,” Sister Laura said.

Sister Laura carried that call to religious life with her for many years, through a courtship, marriage, relocation to the mid-south for her husband’s career, the birth of a son, and the rearing of a son through the college years. Along the way, the marriage ended. Her Catholic faith was very important to her through her years in a Catholic grade school, and Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove, Ill.

“I found great comfort in the church. No matter what the function was, I was always comforted by the rituals and the way we celebrated events in our lives. Even in my teens (at the time of the Second Vatican Council) when I was questioning the church, I never gave up on God. I felt like I was questioning what it all meant to me. That period in high school was very good because it seemed like the Sisters of Providence I had, along with Mother Guerin (Saint Mother Theodor Guerin, the Congregation’s foundress), probably fostered that. They had inquiring minds too,” Sister Laura said.

She said she remembers that several young women were asked the proverbial question, “Oh, have you ever thought about being a sister?” “No one ever said that to me. I thought, well, if they didn’t see it, I’m not meant for it (religious life). There was always that mindset that you had to be ‘good’ to be a sister. I never felt that I was that good. I thought if God really wanted me, God would come after me, no matter what,” she said.

While she was serving as a parish nurse, she committed herself to an annual retreat to prepare for each new year.

“This one particular year, I felt something was going to happen. I was very excited within. I certainly didn’t know what to pray about except for guidance for whatever was going to happen, I wanted to be open to it,” Sister Laura said. “During that retreat, it came back to me that I could be a sister. I thought ‘How could that be? I’m too old. I’m too this, I’m too that.’”

Time certainly brings change.

“I know I believe I am where I need to be. I feel that I can trust that. I think the thing that always stood out for me was that Sisters of Providence were interested in one another. I never saw that evidence as much as I have Saint Mary-of-the- Woods. There was always laughter, hugs, honest questions, inquiries about what you are doing, how are you doing, give me a call, let’s get together. They also seemed to be very centered. They know who they are and what has carried them. I think that is so much like Mother Theodore. She was a woman who had health problems. She knew her limit, but she always walked in faith and trust and she was able to do great things.”

Sister Laura now enjoys many of those same gifts and traits as a member of the Congregation.

“I know I am where I need to be. If you look at my life before, you would say I had it all: marriage, parenting, interest in the community around me, faith, good-paying job, home. I just found I needed more to believe in, to work toward. All of those things weren’t fulfilling for who I wanted to be. I am truly happy. I have good role models in the sisters I live with and that I minister with. My prayer life is a very good foundation for my ministry and being open to the possibilities that await me. It’s where I get my strength and support,” she said.


web site: www.sacredspace.ie

food: broccoli and sauerkraut, not necessarily together, but who knows?

flower/plant: daisy, reminds me of springtime anytime!

movie: Sleepless in Seattle

vacation spot: South Haven, Mich.

recreation: reading, I can get lost in a book

hobby: my newest, knitting

heroine: Dorothy Day

music: Kenny G

holiday: 4th of July

dessert: Jello with Cool Whip

time of day: sunset, preferably watching it at the lake front

season: The coming of spring. I start the countdown at the beginning of March.

childhood activity: riding my bike, swinging on a swing, touching the sky

course in school: history, I love learning about peoples’ struggles, their strengths and their achievements

author: Jodi Picoult

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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