Marian Helpers in Action

As the former president of the National Association of Catholic Nurses U.S.A. (NACN-USA), Marylee J. Meehan of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, has been helping nurses live out their Catholic faith in the workplace since the 1970s. Much like the Marians' Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, she sees it as her calling to help form the consciences of Catholic healthcare professionals so that through their work they can spread God's mercy to all their patients.

Why did you decide to start advocating for Catholic nurses?
It started because of my own experience. I worked at a hospital on Cape Cod in Massachusetts in the 1970s. Coworkers would come to me, knowing that I was Catholic, and tell me about the ethical issues they were facing. I worked with my Catholic coworkers and the bishop to start a local chapter of Catholic nurses to address such issues and advocate for Catholic healthcare professionals.

How did you become involved in NACN-USA?
I helped start this organization in the early 1990s. We realized Catholic nurses across the United States were facing similar ethical issues in the workplace and needed guidance.

Our national organization joined the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants, which falls under the leadership of the Holy See. We have a non-governmental organization membership with the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO). For several years, we were the only Catholic organization among thousands represented at WHO. The Church needs a bigger voice in the healthcare system. That begins by encouraging our healthcare professionals to understand the Catholic faith and to not be afraid to talk about it.

What difficulties are Catholic healthcare professionals currently facing?
In the clinical setting, many in our country don't want religion brought up at all. They argue that that's the job of the chaplain. But nurses need to care for all aspects of their patients' wellbeing, including their spiritual health.

Our Catholic nurses constantly face ethical dilemmas at work. Many Catholic hospitals and clinics, for example, offer reiki and yoga as treatments. We are encouraging Catholic hospitals to inform patients about the potentially negative spiritual effects of these practices and to make sure that patients understand the Church's views. [Reiki is forbidden by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.]

I met a doctor from Austria who was talking to one of his patients about spiritual issues. A nurse overheard his conversation and reported him to the board of directors. He almost lost his job. Catholics around the world are being stifled by secular policies.

At the same time, our culture desperately needs God. Last year, 501 people in my diocese alone died from a drug overdose. Every day, 23 veterans commit suicide. While NACN-USA advocates in Washington, D.C., to address these issues, we also help nurses deal with these problems locally.

What attracts healthcare professionals to your organization?
Our Western society is a mess. Bioethics as practiced today was not created for determining right versus wrong, but to achieve the "greater good." Some in our society tell us that we have the right to happiness even if we pursue it by immoral actions. As a result, our country tragically aborts hundreds of thousands of babies every year.

Nurses in healthcare and at universities are overwhelmed by our culture's flawed ethics. They are attracted to our organization because the Church's views on ethics are clear and consistent. Through promoting natural law, which runs parallel to the Church's teaching, we have been able to help healthcare professionals make a positive impact on our society.

How does NACN-USA spread the message of God's mercy?
In the workplace, nurses have the opportunity to witness daily to their faith and tell everyone about the mercy of God. Nurses deal with people who are in a very vulnerable state. Our organization helps nurses know how to serve our patients well and lead them to health and holiness. One nurse in our organization, for example, has made it a policy within her Catholic hospital to place prayercards on the bedside of all the patients. With our support and guidance, our nurses are not afraid to offer those who are ill a chance to see a priest for Confession or Anointing of the Sick. They are not afraid to tell patients going off to surgery that they are praying for them and that God is with them.

- Marc Massery

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