Canonsburg Hospital’s Pastoral Care turns 30

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Volunteers from the past and present gathered for fellowship and to be recognized for their service to Canonsburg Hospital’s Pastoral Care Department May 22. The reception also celebrated 30 years of the program at the hospital.


The program began in 1983, but in 1984, the volunteer component was added by the Rev. Carol Ross Irwin. Now headed by the Rev. Cathy Peternel, chaplain at Canonsburg Hospital, the program boasts 40 volunteers. The volunteers, also called eucharistic ministers, visit hospital patients daily to pray with them and offer them comfort in what can often be a trying time.


The volunteers come from many different area churches and represent many different faiths.


“We can go in and be a source of encouragement,” Peternel said. Volunteers come in once a week or so and visit with between five and 10 patients per shift.


Over the 30-year span of the program, the volunteers have dedicated more than 63,000 hours to ministering to patients.


“I started it because there was more need than I could do by myself,” Irwin said. “It’s really exciting for me to see how far it’s come.”


Irwin left the hospital in 1986 and now pastors a church in Franklin Park. “It’s so exciting and great to see old friends,” she said. Irwin added it was great to see that what started out as an idea 30 years ago has “turned into a ministry that has helped hundreds if not thousands of patients.”


Many of the volunteers are retired, including Jack and Betty Heidler of Canonsburg. The couple has each given more than 3,000 hours of their time to the program.


“I’m only 90,” joked Jack Heidler at the reception. He says he keeps volunteering because “it’s nice meeting people.”


Betty Heidler added, “You always receive more than you give.”


“It’s been a life-saving thing for me,” said Ruth Kulish of Canonsburg, who started volunteering about 10 years ago, after her husband died.


“It’s been the most rewarding experience,” Kulish added. She has 500 volunteer hours so far at the hospital. “You forget about your problems because you’re focusing on the patients. You walk away feeling grateful.”


“The people really appreciate having someone come in,” said Aldine Benner of Upper St. Clair.


Royce Karpy of Eighty Four is one of the younger volunteers and works full-time as a commercial real estate broker, but makes time to volunteer at the hospital every Monday.


“It’s been a wonderful journey,” said Karpy, who has volunteered in the program for about five years. “The time of prayer is really incredible.”


During her closing remarks at the reception, Peternel, near tears, told the volunteers, “I can’t tell you what you folks mean to me. You’ve been such a blessing to me. I watched the Lord hand-pick you.”


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