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Compassionate listening more important than ever

When Maureen Dillon's days as a registered nurse were filled more by computers and machines than patients, she quit and found a job where people were the focus.

Dillon has been the parish nurse at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park for the past 10 years -- the best 10 years of her nursing career, she said recently.

Her job is mostly compassionate listening, she says. "I help people sort out their needs for themselves."

When she began the job at the church, Dillon said she still treated people like patients. "I would visit, check their medications, their heart rate, but I finally realized that wasn't the real job.

"I like to be able to take the time to listen, to pray with and for parishioners in their journeys and to bring God's love for them to the forefront of their minds," Dillon said

Every week she visits Marge Fahey, a Cottage Grove parishioner who spent most of her life in St. Paul Park. Fahey looks forward to Dillon's visits. "I wish I'd met her sooner," Fahey said. "We're friends, we talk. She brings me communion -- it's too hard for me to get to church on Sundays."

When Fahey explained at one visit that she was afraid of falling and having no one to help her up, Dillon suggested buying a Lifeline Alert necklace or bracelet that would allow her to call for help in an emergency. And when Fahey mentioned cramps in her legs, Dillon questioned her about her medications.

Dillon tells of another woman -- very depressed -- who called to talk. "My hours are so flexible that I went to visit her immediately and took a wheelchair and a shower chair," she said. "The woman said I saved her life, gave her mobility."

Dillon is part of the three-person pastoral team at St. Thomas. She often visits parishioners along with Father Greg Esty and Joyce Loechler. "Father Greg gives the sacraments and Joyce helps families through funerals and the grieving process," Dillon said.

The team offers a blend of pastoral and health care, according to Dillon. "Just letting a person know that we care and pray for them, gives people hope."

Most people just need someone to listen and then ask the questions that will help them make decisions.

Dillon says the many changes in healthcare today have forced people to become their own health care advocates. "This has made the need for health ministry at a congregational level so important," she said. "As a parish nurse I let people know I care. I let them know that the church is there for them."

Dillon officially works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday but says her hours are very flexible. During that time, she visits parishioners at home and at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. She sets up regular blood pressure screenings at the church and at Red Rock Manor in Newport. She connects parishioners with health resources and advocates for them at doctor's appointments. Twice a year she organizes a yoga class and every fall sets up a flu clinic. She gives classes on CPR and use of the new defibrillator donated to the church, and most recently is discussing with the team how to help parishioners with stress.

"The job has been a second vocation for me," she said. "I don't plan to ever give it up."