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“You are worth everything” Sister Barbara Sheehan and Urban CPE Consortium

Sister Barbara Sheehan in her ministry

“When you walk in at Bonaventure House, you’re moving in because the bottom is falling out of your life.”

Ezra Meadors knows this feeling well. He became a Providence Associate in 2012. Only a couple of years later, he fell into the trap of addiction.

He elected to move to Bonaventure House, a Chicago-based facility founded in 1989 by the Alexian Brothers. It offers residents case management, recovery, occupational therapy, spiritual care and after care.

Sister Barbara Sheehan, in red sweater, meets people at Bonaventure House, one of her ministry sites as executive director of Urban Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Consortium in Chicago. There she helps train students to listen with head and heart and put faith into action.

One organization that assists in spiritual care at Bonaventure House is the Urban Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Consortium, a ministry under the direction of Executive Director Sister Barbara Sheehan, SP (formerly Sister Marie Barbara).

One-on-one care

Students training for ministry through the Urban CPE Consortium provide care and one-on-one contact with people others may consider “the least” among us. They assist people facing poverty, violence, addiction, homelessness, grief, loss and more. In addition to Bonaventure House, Sister Barbara networks with and places students at 11 other social agencies, members of the Urban CPE Consortium.

The goals of the organization are to teach students to listen with “head and heart” and respond with care, to train persons of all faith traditions in skills needed to put faith into action and to assist in the growth of faith leaders.

Urban CPE Consortium began in 1993. Sister Barbara came to the facility in 1995.

“We work with persons who are challenged with social conditions who do not have the privilege and the resources to live fully,” Sister Barbara said.

Providence Associate Ezra (Kyle) Meadors, left, was able to experience the loving care of Sister Barbara Sheehan, right, and her students while receiving treatment at Bonaventure House in Chicago. Here the two participate together in a Chicago AIDS Run/Walk in 2015.

Sister Barbara said students in the program give 300 hours of service within an agency that is part of the consortium. Sister Barbara walks with the students as they serve others.

“They do group work and individual clinical supervision in order for them to become more effective practitioners,” Sister Barbara said. “We work on the integration of their head and heart. The people we serve have often been oppressed or abused in some way. It’s a matter of learning how to make space between one’s self and the other person that gives them the freedom to come to know us and to feel a safety in sharing their story. You build trust by taking time, by working on yourself, to make a true space to get rid of prejudices, to get rid of stereotypes.

Walking with

“This is not counseling. It is a ministry of care that gives the message to people that they are important.”

Ezra said he knew Sister Barbara prior to coming to Bonaventure House. During his stay, he met with her twice.

“Being able to walk in and have someone look at you  and say you’re a great person was amazing,” he said of his time with Sister Barbara. “She looks at each of us and doesn’t see an addict. She looks at us as human. Every person feels welcome.”

Ezra said it made a deep impact on him to hear Sister Barbara say, “You are worth everything.” Sister Barbara said those words stem from her growing understanding of the relationship we have with God.

Sister Barbara Sheehan, right, visits with homeless men as they wait in line for a sandwich at one of the Night Ministry stops where Urban CPE Consortium in Chicago assists.

“Each person is totally loved by God and has a sense of dignity no matter what they have done,” she said. “The marginalized have been told over and over again that they are not worth anything, so they begin to believe that.”

During spiritual care meetings with her, Ezra witnessed this.

We are called to do this

“I think the ministry is extremely beneficial for every resident there,” he said. “My time and Bonaventure House and the spiritual care meetings helped me start to put my life back together.”

“Our students have come to great insights about themselves. They have formed a clear identity of who they are and how their faith is put into action,” Sister Barbara said. “And the persons we have served have come to a greater sense of dignity, a greater sense of self-worth. They have a belief in themselves and know that somebody else cares for them.

“We are called to do this; we don’t leave this to everybody else. We are called to be with our brothers and sisters. We impact others, but others impact us as well. I like to say that the ministry is a gift exchange. We give, but if we are open and receptive, then there is change on everyone’s part.”

(Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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  1. Avatar joseph mcdonnell on July 19, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    Sister Barbara,
    I can remember the day I first met you. It was a day I will never
    forget. It was a day that began a new life for me. A life full of twists
    and turns, so different from my 40 comfortable years with HUD.
    I had one employer for 40 years–US Government. Since meeting you
    I have had 5 CPE units, beginning with you , then Marsha Collins, then
    Rev. Karen, then Peter, and ending with Mary–all wonderful.
    So now I move one to California to Napa State Hospital where I will
    be with severely mentally ill persons. What a challenge, how different,
    how nervous I am. So I ask for your prayers that I be an effective Catholic
    Chaplain(my job title, but really chaplain to all). I have kept myself open
    to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit and the HS has brought me here-to
    Joe McDonnell

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