Tahlia Rose Hadley’s newborn baby daughter was hospitalized just eight days after being born and would need to have open heart surgery to combat congenital heart disease.

The ordeal left Hadley — who had taught youth ministry at Saint Madeleine Sophie in Guilderland and St. Gabriel the Archangel parishes in Rotterdam for the past eight years — with a new calling.

“It was really that experience in the hospital with her that changed my heart toward chaplaincy,” said Hadley, whose daughter, Celeste, although expected to have future surgeries, is now an active 4-year-old with no restrictions.

“I was really led, fed and nurtured by chaplains in the hospital who still let me feel connected to my home and parish. That really changed my direction.”

Before her daughter was born, Hadley’s chaplain would connect with her by coming to some of her appointments. When her daughter had surgery in Boston, another chaplain connected Hadley with a volunteer Eucharistic Minister to bring her communion.

“It wasn’t every day, but it didn’t need to be every day. It just made me feel like, ‘Ok I may be far from my home and my parish community but here I am, a part of the Universal Church and they’re bringing me communion even though I’m in the hospital with a sick kid,’ ” Hadley said.

The feeling of reassurance, brought on by the presence of another person, inspired Hadley in her new calling.

Currently working on her Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) certificate to become a board-certified chaplain, Hadley is learning through hands-on experience how to listen and attend to patients and their loved ones more effectively. Before COVID-19, Hadley, working as a full-time chaplain, covered an array of units at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany: From labor, delivery and postpartum care, to post-surgical and respiratory units.

On a typical day, Hadley knocks on a patient’s door, announces she’s there for spiritual care, and then tries to connect with them and other family members to gauge how everyone is feeling. From there she offers prayers, connects them with the sacraments if they want anointing, and offers to contact the patient’s home parish for additional prayers from their community.

Oftentimes non-verbal clues offer the most insights.

“(I) offer a listening ear, but also since I’m there in front of them I can see if they’re getting teary-eyed about something (and) if there’s a question I want to follow up on,” Hadley said.

Since social distancing has taken effect, Hadley’s face-to-face interactions have declined significantly. Unable to visit patients who are COVID-19 positive, she offers phone calls.

“And it’s hard because I can’t see their faces so I can’t make an immediate connection over the phone, which is difficult,” Hadley says.

Another difficulty that emerges with COVID-19 patients is a strict policy of having no visitors in the hospital.

“When they can’t actually be there, I end up calling them and I think that sometimes sets off a little panic for people too because I’m calling, saying ‘I’m a chaplain from St. Peter’s, I don’t have any medical information to give you, I just want to check in on your spiritual aid,’ ” Hadley said.

If a patient tests negative for COVID-19, Hadley can visit them face-to-face in the hospital wearing a mask after entering through an employees’ only entrance and having her temperature taken.

To process all that is going on as a unit, every morning Hadley and her team at St. Peter’s open with a reflection and prayer. Hadley connects with those she works with on each unit in other ways, too. As part of her spiritual rounds, she checks in with staff members throughout the day, often asking them how they’re holding up. She recalls one staff member saying, ‘You know I could really use some prayer. Thank you for being there.’ They stood in the hallway and prayed together.

“And I had this woman say to me, ‘Thank you, I didn’t know how badly I needed that,’” Hadley said.

 “It’s a powerful thing to be present while I’m also feeling worried and anxious and all those other good feelings that have been brought up for everybody,” she added. “Chaplains aren’t immune to that, but it has felt like we can be part of a team and we can be cohesive and offer our spiritual care.”

Hadley says being there for people when they are most vulnerable has given her a deeper sense of faith.

“I know any idea or image I had of God before working as a chaplain has just totally stretched and grown and evolved into knowing that God is so much bigger than I ever could have imagined and certainly being in the hospital is like walking on holy ground,” Hadley said.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to be present to people in their most vulnerable times and that’s why I keep showing up.”