For many priests and permanent deacons, hospital ministry is an important part of their ministry to their community. It is true for Deacon Charles D. Esposito, who was ordained June 2014. While serving parishioners at SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Williamsville, he also ministers to patients and their families at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Williamsville.
Deacon Esposito said his hospital ministry began during his last year of formation at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. He worked with Christine Stry, director of pastoral care at Millard Fillmore Suburban, who had also graduated from Christ the King Seminary. She was auditing a class Deacon Esposito was taking there.
"The summer going into my last year, we got talking, because I still hadn't decided what I was going to do for my ministry," Deacon Esposito said. "I talked to her, and it worked out well because we've got a couple deacons there already, that I knew, who were there on a regular basis, doing their ministry of charity. Before ordination, I said I'd like to continue doing what I was doing at the hospital."
Deacon Esposito has served at Millard Fillmore Suburban for three years, seeing patients who have requested the services of a chaplain or who have questions to ask of him. The people he serves are in many different conditions. Some of the patients are conscious, while in other cases, a patient may be critically ill and unresponsive, and so Deacon Esposito speaks with the person's family.
"I also go through the list at night to see if there's anybody I know from my parish," he said. "It could be a friend's family, or if I get a phone call from someone's relatives, I'll usually make a stop. I also take the time during visiting hours at the ICU to go there, the majority of the time to talk to the families that are there because a lot of the people in ICU can't communicate."
In many cases, Deacon Esposito makes himself available to families who are going through a traumatic and unfamiliar experience. He attempts to reassure them of the medical and spiritual efforts that are being undertaken on their loved one's behalf. On Monday nights and sometimes on weekends, Deacon Esposito will be on call for pastoral care. If someone needs help, he is called in.
"Sometimes, it could be that people just need someone to talk to," Deacon Esposito said. "It could be a situation that the person may be in grave health. Especially if it's a Catholic, if they would like a priest in to do anointing of the sick, I will contact the parish and try to see whom we can get to come in to take care of that."
Deacon Esposito's most inspiring experiences have been when people have written or called to tell him about the support he has given to them and their families, and how small things can make a big difference.
"Many times, you don't think you've done a thing," he said.
In one instance, he recalled an elderly patient who had a bad fall in a nursing home and passed away a week later. After her death, Deacon Esposito received a call from the woman's granddaughter, whom he had never met, thanking him for the support he offered the family. Deacon Esposito took care of the woman's burial service. She was not Catholic, but being a Christian, the family wanted a prayer service.
"Just to have an influence like that, to help people during those times, is inspiring."
In another instance, Deacon Esposito remembered how he did a Communion call late on a Monday night for a patient who was in ICU. That Wednesday, he read that the woman died on Tuesday morning.
"I was the last one, actually, to see her from the spiritual end," Deacon Esposito said. "Later that week, the deacon that did her wake service got a nice response from her son, thanking me for being there the night before she passed away. There are situations you get into where you have no idea if you're actually making an influence, so you get feedback from people. That kind of keeps you going."
In his field of ministry, Deacon Esposito regularly sees people who are in hospice care and are critically ill, many of whom are cancer patients.
"It's not what you say, but it's just being present for that person and for their family," he said, recalling a parishioner with terminal cancer who had given up on chemo treatments. One night, he sat with her for two hours, listening to her life experiences.
"I got the whole life story, but just being there to pray helped," Deacon Esposito said. "This was before I was ordained. She said to me, 'I know I'm not going to make it to your ordination, but I want you to give me a blessing before you go.' That kind of just put me over the edge."