May 28, 2004
Dominican sister helps others with 'healing hands'
by Jennifer Brinker, Review Staff Writer
When Dominican Sister Carrol Coble became a parish nurse in 1992, she recalled how she was simply told by her employer to go out and meet the needs of the people.
"I thought, ‘Wow! What does that mean?’"
Twelve years later, the tables have been turned, and Sister Carrol is deemed a veteran, even giving advice to new parish nurses as they embark on their careers.
Sister Carrol currently splits her time between two South St. Louis parishes — Holy Family and St. Francis de Sales. She will change to a full-time ministry at Holy Family June 1 as St. Francis de Sales looks for a bilingual parish nurse.
At first glance, the petite woman religious seems quiet and humble, but her ministry as a parish nurse speaks volumes to those she serves as well as those with whom she works.
"She is an absolute gift to the parish," said Father Rickey J. Valleroy, pastor of Holy Family.
Caring for the spiritual and physical needs of parishioners is her goal, Father Valleroy said. Noting that 45 percent of Holy Family is over age 65, he added that "she’s great at bringing the seniors together ... as far as the communal life of the parish."
Father Valleroy also noted that her ministry complements his role as a pastor as well as the parish staff. "She helps tremendously — physically and spiritually. She definitely makes the staff whole."
Although there’s no typical day for Sister Carrol, much of her time is spent visiting with parishioners at their homes, in the hospital and in nursing homes to check on their well-being.
When visiting someone for the first time, Sister Carrol will do a complete assessment of the person’s needs, including medical problems and the medications the person takes.
"And if they’re really older and living alone, (I) find out what their support system is, if they are able to go to church. If not, then we will provide eucharistic ministers to go into the home for them," she said.
She also spends a great deal of time organizing activities for parishioners, including blood pressure screenings, weight management classes, a grief support group and exercise programs for seniors, and connecting parish seniors with school children through a number of activities. She also connects parishioners with community resources.
Sister Carrol is celebrating her 50th anniversary as a Dominican this year. When she entered the convent on Sept. 8, 1954, "I really did so because I thought that was the only way to save my soul and get to heaven," she said.
But the reason she became a woman religious and the reason for staying are completely different.
"I began to realize that the focus was on meeting the needs of others," she said. "The whole focus changed."
She started her ministry as an educator and then went to nursing school and started serving in the hospital setting. She felt nursing school didn’t teach her how to care for patients’ spiritual needs, so she enrolled in a chaplain residency program. That eventually led her to parish nursing.
"This particular work that I do now, I feel that it culminates and allows me to meet the needs of others," Sister Carrol said. "With parish nursing, it is more rounded. I am called to meet the needs of lots more people."
At a meeting of the Greater St. Louis Parish Nurse Network last week, a group of fellow parish nurses gathered to congratulate her on her golden jubilee as a woman religious and thank her for her service as a parish nurse.
Member Yvonne Whitfield spoke on behalf of fellow parish nurse Georgia Zimmerman, who could not attend the meeting. She called Sister Carrol "a companion to the lonely, a comfort to the sorrowful and a relief to the burdened. She always supports the community elders, disenfranchised and underserved in the community."
"One of the joys for me is walking on a faith journey with people," Sister Carrol said. "I’ve just had some wonderful experiences and wonderful opportunities to serve.
"I have met some wonderful people who have taught me how to love unconditionally," she said. "It’s receiving God’s love and giving that love to others and receiving that love back from them. That’s what it’s all about as far as religious life goes."