In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, The Evangelist sat down with Harley McDevitt, head of pastoral care for the Albany Diocese, to discuss the Diocese’s recent and forthcoming initiatives to help local Catholics better their state of mental health.

WHEN TO CALL APS

Two upcoming information sessions are being offered for Albany and Saratoga County parishes on distinguishing when to call county Adult Protective Services vs. calling 911.

The presentations are geared toward parish volunteers who visit elderly, disabled or homebound parishioners in order to bring communion or check on parishioners’ living status. Some pastoral care volunteers encounter situations that would indicate a need to bring in additional help.

The idea was sparked by a parish volunteer from Saratoga who felt that an older parishioner needed counseling, but was not sure if the situation warranted intervention by professionals.

Mrs. McDevitt said that “you don’t just call for everyone,” because each situation is different and “not everybody may need a professional.”
The presentations will address when it is appropriate to call Adult Family Services or Crisis Intervention Services.

The Albany County presentation will be held May 21, 1:30-3 p.m., at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany, and led by Viola Lipscomb of New York Connects and the Department of Social Services and Katie Flanigan of the Department of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Unit. The Saratoga County presentation will be held May 24, 2-3 p.m., at Corpus Christi parish in Round Lake, and led by Keith Kirchhoff of the Saratoga County Department of Social Services.

Mrs. McDevitt said Catholics shouldn’t “feel they need to be an expert” on mental health in order to volunteer as pastoral care visitors.

Everyone is trained on how to conduct a visit and how to bring communion — and now, “we’ll tell you who to call” in a crisis, she said.

(For information, contact Maria Schollenberger at maria.schollenberger@rcda.org or 518-641-6818.)

EFFECTS OF FIRE

On April 3, tragedy and loss struck Our Lady of Knock Shrine in East Durham (a mission of Sacred Heart parish in Cairo) when a house fire claimed the lives of a local family.

Three young children — Jonathan Mammano, Jayden Caffrey and Sophia Mammano — and their grandparents, Mary and Nicholas Mammano, died in the fire. The children’s father survived, but is being treated for burn injuries. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The shrine held a vigil for the victim’s family. The following week, a funeral service was held at Our Lady of Knock, followed by a private burial.  

As soon as Mrs. McDevitt heard the terrible news, she was on the phone, making arrangements for counseling for parishioners. Rev. Steve Matthews, pastor, said they were in a lot of pain.

Mrs. McDevitt visited the shrine community along with a counselor from the diocesan Consultation Center. The two sat with parishioners to discuss how they were feeling and provided help for their grief.

“To have so many people die in a small community” was a traumatizing experience, Mrs. McDevitt said. In talking about their grief, some people realized the loss was tied to unresolved issues from their own past.

Mrs. McDevitt also put Father Matthews in touch with Maria College in Albany, which sponsors a prayer service for loss, and with free services offered by a local Hospice agency.

FOR GRIEVING PARENTS

On Nov. 17, the Diocese will host its first Emmaus ministry retreat for grieving parents. The one-day retreat helps to serve the spiritual needs of parents who have suffered the loss of a child.

The Emmaus ministry was started at a parish in Boston by Charlie and Diane Monaghan, who lost their son to suicide. Since its inception in 2009, the retreat program has spread across the Northeast. The Diocese’s first annual retreat will be held at St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady.

Mrs. McDevitt learned about Emmaus retreats last fall and thought they would be a good support for grieving parents in the Albany Diocese. She believes the retreats are a chance for parents to mourn, regardless of when their child passed away.

“It’s not natural to have a child die before a parent,” she said. “Not seeing a child graduate from high school — or, let’s say they’re an only child, knowing you’ll never have grandchildren” are part of parents’ loss.

The retreat will include prayer and reflection, the lighting of candles marked with photos of the lost children that parents can take home after the ceremony, and separate discussion groups for women and men.

Mrs. McDevitt said that separation is important because women and men grieve differently.

An information session on Emmaus ministry will take place Sept. 11 at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Albany. Parish leaders are encouraged to attend to learn about how their parish could sponsor an Emmaus retreat. Mrs. McDevitt plans to offer the retreat at least once a year throughout the Diocese, but hopes that, once the retreats begin, more parishes will offer one.

(For information, call the diocesan Pastoral Care office at 518-641-6823 or harley.mcdevitt@rcda.org.)