A day in the life of a Catholic Care Chaplain

By Belinda Harding, 7 December 2023
Catholic Care chaplain Yvonne Turner. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


When Yvonne Turner joined Catholic Care as a lay chaplain in 2022, she embarked upon one of the most rewarding journeys of her life. As part of our Bishop’s Christmas Appeal, supporting the ministry of chaplaincy, we spoke to Yvonne about her vocation.  

“I started my vocation as a registered nurse about 25 years ago and spent a lot of time in aged care and community-based care. In these environments, spiritual and emotional care are an important component of patient care. Over time, I decided to explore these roles more and look into chaplaincy,” she explains. “My first chaplaincy role was in a palliative care team, and I’m now working with Catholic Care in mental health and I love it.” 

While clarifying the responsibilities of a chaplain, her commitment to this life-changing ministry and the people she cares for, is abundantly clear.  

“As a chaplain, I offer spiritual and emotional support to clients, staff, and families who are religious, non-religious or seeking spirituality. Chaplaincy is about your connection with others, with yourself, and with God,” says Yvonne, wisely. “I listen and shine a light on the experiences, life stories, and worldviews of others so they can tell their story in an uncensored and meaningful way without judgment or agenda. I think that’s the real beauty of what chaplains do.” 

Speaking fondly of the connection she is able to establish with the people she assists, Yvonne says, “I think it’s quite a privileged position to be invited into that space. It’s a personal and intimate space, and one where people often take off their mask and talk about whatever they desperately need to say. For example, personal stories of their life that they’ve never told anyone before, their fears, regrets and important questions about life and faith.”  

Though Yvonne meets many new faces in any given week, she is also presented with a few familiar faces, too.  

“Both palliative care and mental health chaplaincy with Catholic Care lead you to see people more than once. Chaplains will support people through multiple presentations into a mental health facility. So as a chaplain, I do get to know people intimately and grow with them in terms of their spiritual relationship.” 

Catholic Care chaplain Yvonne Turner (left) speaking with Catholic Care Chaplaincy Coordinator Bernard Ellis. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

When asked about how she can help those suffering from mental illness, Yvonne proposes that it is about meeting them on their spiritual journey and providing a space for their experiences and their story.  

“People who suffer from mental illness really understand suffering. They often have a history of lifelong traumas, of complex grief, and they really understand the concept of dark and light,” she reveals. “They really feel the darkness and are living with this. So, it’s extremely valuable to share your suffering and reality with someone and to be given the opportunity to explore your strong sense of spirituality.”

Understanding the frustration many of her patients encounter throughout their often lengthy care or rehabilitation, Yvonne acknowledges that it’s important for people to receive emotional support throughout their journey.  

“There’s a great sense of waiting and frustration for patients. There’s also a great need for people to be able to share where they are at, with somebody. Typically, they want someone who’s not part of the clinical staffing team,” admits Yvonne. “They want to be real with someone and share their thoughts, feelings and emotional burdens. 

“Being a chaplain is like being a story collector: listening, respecting, and paying homage to another’s experience. In mental health, this journey can lead to some dark places and difficult struggles through loneliness, abuse, betrayal, grief, suicide attempts, addiction, imprisonment, terminal illness, and life-changing diagnoses. For some, it’s a lifetime of suffering. 

“That’s why chaplaincy is so important, as it offers an emotional release for clients, and provides hope for healing and restoration. It can ease the burden, lift the spirits, and help people see their life with a renewed perspective. People can recognise and connect with themselves and with Christ,” she states.  

Catholic Care hospital chaplains Abraham George (left) and Yvonne Turner. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

“I’ve journeyed with the young who are sitting in hospital beds, frightened and alone. The elderly who have been forgotten even by family. With new mothers, young families, those without support and those with complex physical and mental disabilities. I’ve journeyed with people whose illnesses have seen them burn bridges with loved ones, yet they’re desperate to reconnect and be heard. 

“I’ve witnessed a client curled up in the fetal position and suicidal, take courage by opening up about his life and story. After exposing the painful truths, he felt the courage to connect more fully with Christ. Through facilitation by a chaplain, they returned to confession, to the sacraments, to their spiritual networks and into a meaningful Catholic prayer life. In each of these encounters, I’ve seen hope in the personal search for God. I’ve seen people reframe, reconnect and return to their spiritual core.  I’ve seen Jesus in these encounters, and I’m so grateful that he uses me in this ministry.” 

When asked to summarise what she does in one simple sentence, Yvonne meaningfully responds: “Chaplaincy can be best understood through the words of a client who once said to me, “You bring life to people.” So, that’s what I do. That’s a day in the life of a chaplain.”  

You can help our Catholic Care chaplains, like Yvonne, to give comfort, faith and hope to people suffering, with a gift to the Bishop’s Christmas Appeal today by calling (02) 8838 3482 or visiting yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal-christmas  

Belinda Harding is a freelance writer and contributor to Catholic Outlook.


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