Parish nurses caring for the spirit as well as the body

Leonie Rastas (The Catholic Leader/Emilie Ng)

Geelong nurse Leonie Rastas believes the Church could lead the way in attending to the spiritual dimension of nursing care through parish nurses, The Catholic Leader reports.

Mrs Rastas founded a health promotion charity that knits prayer shawls for families in distress through illness or grief.

One family who received shawls was the O'Keefe family of Geelong, whose son Dan's body was discovered beneath their Geelong home in 2006, ending a five-year search for the 24 year-old.

“We got the most beautiful card saying ‘Thank you so much, the day we buried Daniel was freezing cold and we all wore our shawls at the cemetery’,” Mrs Rastas said.

The charity’s prayer shawls have comforted countless Australians, and highlight the importance of the spiritual dimension of nursing care. Mrs Rastas believes the Church can spearhead this undervalued dimension through parish nurses.

In 2000 Mrs Rastas received special faith-based nursing training from the Australian Lutheran College in Adelaide through a course designed by US Lutheran pastor and a Catholic nurse. Since then, she has worked in parishes across Geelong and Melbourne offering a distinctly Catholic form of nursing care.

Many of Mrs Rastas’ clients have benefited from the reception of the sacraments and the opportunity to pray during house or hospital visits. Mrs Rastas recalled visiting a young woman with four children who had an abortion after doctors discovered she had Lymphoma.

“She’d never really forgiven herself, and she couldn’t go to the cemetery without crying,” she said.

Mrs Rastas raised the idea of inviting a priest to her home to give the Sacrament of Penance. The young woman agreed and she confessed having the abortion to the priest.

“And then from then on whenever she went to the cemetery she had peace,” Mrs Rastas said. “It was just beautiful.”

In 2005 Mrs Rastas set up a charity, Pastoral Healthcare Network Australia, and within it opened the Australian Parish Nurse Resource Centre to train and equip registered nurses to work in churches.

The centre offers resources for nurses looking to work in parishes and churches, and most recently developed online courses. Mrs Rastas will hold her first information session on the online courses in Brisbane on October 4.


Victorian parish nurse for 17 years has plans to expand ministry into Brisbane (The Catholic Leader)

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