Reaching out as mercy
Father Dan Hopcus, a Providence Associate and the priest chaplain for the Sisters of Providence, has a heart for ministering with the sick.
Many a Sister of Providence will tell of the gift he has for living out that corporal work of mercy “to comfort the sick.” It is played out daily in Providence Health Care, the sisters’ sponsored health care facility at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Father Dan has visited the residents there nearly every day of his 14 years at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Each morning he makes his rounds through the facility. He stops by the dining room as residents eat. He shakes hands. Offers a blessing in the form of the sign of the cross on the forehead. Greets the residents. Asks them how they are.
If someone is not in the dining area, he stops by their room to check in. If someone wishes to speak with him one-on-one, he welcomes it. If he misses a sister or another resident on his morning visit, he leaves a card saying he was there.
“It’s amazing how they miss it if they think I’m going to pass them by,” he said.” It’s a genuine joyful response that they have.”
This part of his ministry grew out of being here and attending to the sisters’ needs, he says. It is not so much about church or religion, it is about personal contact. About presence. About awareness, he says.
“It’s just an inner need that people have. It’s that personal contact. And sometimes just the physical touch. The handshake. Putting your hand on their shoulder. It creates almost a bond. I think that is what really reaches people,” he said.
Father Dan says this is what Pope Francis is referring to again and again regarding a church that reaches out.
“As Pope Francis has spoken so many times, at least the way that I understand it, mercy is shown by reaching out to people where they are and not waiting for them to come to you. So in a way, it is to be alert to the needs of someone. The need to be loved, to be accepted, to be important. I think Pope Francis’ approach to a year of mercy has again called people to be more aware, more alert, to that,” he said.
Mercy is kindness
“And mercy, I think, can be kindness in any form. It can be described as acts of kindness, acts of generosity, acts of concern, and just being alert,” he said.
Through his more than 50 years of ministry as a priest, Father Dan says he has always felt a special draw to ministering with the sick and grieving. At one time he worked as a police chaplain where he was called to accidents and other tragedies. He has ministered in parishes with people hospitalized or in nursing facilities.
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“She was in bed with all these tubes and everything. And God, I wanted to heal her. That’s kind of stuck with me. That’s the most challenging part,” he says, “not being able to heal.”
“You want to take care of their hurt, their pain. But you can’t. And the doctors, the nurses are trying to help them with it. And they are struggling with it. And you try to assure them that people are doing whatever they can. But you can’t heal them. That’s when you realize your limitations.”
“Whether it’s a physical healing or a spiritual healing, you realize that it’s not you. There’s something else. It’s a different power.”
Why is Father Dan spending this part of his life living and ministering among the Sisters of Providence?
“I never would have moved all the way from California to here and taken on this responsibility if I didn’t believe in what the Sisters of Providence are about,” he said.
Resonating with the sisters
He sees something he thinks the world needs in the Sisters of Providence. It attracts him to minister alongside them as a Providence Associate.
“It’s their awareness. Their alertness to the world, to what’s going on in the world. It’s their presence. And their willingness to really live out their commitment to their faith.”
“They’re a tremendous group of women. They’re intelligent, they’re spiritual, they’re dedicated and a lot of fun! It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be here,” he said.
(Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)