By Tammy Townsend Kise, Director of Communications
"I really have a passion for life,” Sr. Janice Marie Blados said on one of those rare days when she had a few moments to pause and reflect on her ministry. “What drives me is the whole idea of encountering people and forming right relationships. My ministry allows me to do that.”
Sr. Janice Marie, known as “JB” among her CSFN sisters, serves as the chaplain for LIFE Pittsburgh, an insurance program that provides inclusive care to the frail elderly with chronic health conditions, allowing them to stay in their homes as long as possible. As a full-time member of LIFE Pittsburgh’s team of nurses, doctors, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, dietitians and others, Sr. Janice Marie, along with all the LIFE team members, works daily to improve the lives of the program’s participants.
“The interdisciplinary team works together to provide for the needs for the participants,” she said. “LIFE Pittsburgh is one of the few LIFE programs that has full-time chaplains.”
As chaplain, Sr. Janice Marie assists with the spirituality needs of LIFE participants and reaches out to their families to help with end of life issues. She begins with a spiritual assessment of each new participant, asking them to consider how she can help sustain their spirituality and what they would like their final days to be.
“The final days of someone’s life are a sacred time,” she explained. “I ask them how they want me to help them and what they want from LIFE Pittsburgh and their family in their last days and hours. Everyone struggles with end of life questions and many struggle with the need to care for elderly family members. A spiritual presence can help to ease the transition from independence to interdependence, from life to death.”
With enthusiasm and passion, Sr. Janice Marie spoke of the many blessings she receives from ministering at LIFE.
“I really see the face of God in each of the people I work with,” she said. “In their suffering, they don’t give up. They have a faith that speaks to me.”
As Sr. Janice Marie spoke, the minute-by-minute demands of her work diverted her attention a few times. She patiently paused in her reflection to help those who had stopped in her office, always conscious of the importance of her ministry.
“There’s always more to do,” she said. “Sometimes I feel pulled in so many directions, but I remind myself there is a God and it’s not me.” In a helping position such as hers, she says, it’s easy to feel she must do everything and help everyone.
So, where does she find the peace, strength and balance necessary for this demanding ministry? “I must have a deepening relationship with God and with my community,” she said. “For me, it’s about relying on God’s mercy and God’s goodness and protection.”
She went on to say, “I remind the participants I work with of the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd holding the sheep. I tell them that sometimes we’re not lost; we’re just weary. It’s OK to realize we have limitations and let Him carry us through the burden.”
Jesus the Good Shepherd is familiar to Sr. Janice Marie – it’s the Mystery she chose when she took her final vows on April 26, 1981. Sr. Janice Marie entered the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CSFN) in August 1973 and began serving in healthcare chaplaincy in 1977. With both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, she has served as a chaplain at Ohio Valley and Mercy Hospitals; the vocation and initial formation director in St. Joseph Province; a marriage and family therapist and grief counselor at Nazareth Family Services and Holy Family Manor, in addition to her current work at LIFE Pittsburgh.
“Both my parents died when I was younger,” she said. “I believe that taught me that we only have today – no matter who you are. Every day is a blessing. I’ve been blessed with a loving family and community.”
The word and the unspoken attitude danced among all of Sr. Janice Marie’s sentences, creating a gratitude list of the many things she feels blessed to have: family, community, her ministry and the precious time God gives us. It’s this “attitude of gratitude” she tries to instill in the people she works with.
Sr. Janice Marie understands death is often difficult and painful to contemplate, yet she continues to bring a deep and eternal grace to the challenging issue. “It’s a privilege to journey with people into what seems like the unknown,” she said.
“When the time comes, we give everything over to God,” she said. “We want to hold on to stuff. I tell the people I work with that God takes away some things so they won’t have a lot of baggage when the time comes. God is stripping them of what they don’t need.”
As a non-denominational chaplain, Sr. Janice Marie is amazed at how receptive and open people are to her ministry, regardless of their faith. They see her “as a faithful woman of God” and find comfort in the spirituality she brings to each ordinary encounter.
Each day at LIFE Pittsburgh, Sr. Janice Marie begins with a meeting of the interdisciplinary team to discuss the participants needs. Two days a week, she serves at a nondenominational chapel service. She also conducts Bible studies and self-esteem and bereavement groups, makes pastoral visits in hospitals and nursing homes and is present at end of life conferences with participants and families.
“The only thing consistent is inconsistency,” she said of her daily work schedule. “I am doing what is needed. My day is structured around the needs of the participants.” Much of her day, she says, is spent in simply being present and listening.
Recalling a particularly poignant ministry moment, her voice softened as she began to tell how she sat at the bedside of a CSFN sister nearing death. The elderly sister said, “Forgive me, Mother Superior, for anything I’ve done to hurt you.” Sr. Janice Marie had once served as the local superior for the sister’s retirement community.
Sr. Janice Marie’s first thought was to dismiss the request and say, “You haven’t done anything to hurt me.” Instead, she accepted the apology on behalf of herself and all her sisters and she asked the dying sister for the same forgiveness.
The elderly sister died an hour later.
“Don’t be afraid of what people tell you about their life,” Sr. Janice Marie said. “Don’t take away their need to tell you. It is often uncomfortable what they have to say, but listen to what people are really saying and don’t strip them of it. Affirm it!”
After many years working with end of life issues, Sr. Janice Marie believes everyone should spend time thinking about how they want their life to end. “Take it seriously,” she said. “Talk to someone you trust. Have that conversation. It is important to come to peace with our own death.”
While contemplating the end of our life is necessary, Sr. Janice Marie also believes it is important to make the most of the life we have now, to form relationships that are valuable, to be grateful for what we have today, to say “thank you” to those we encounter in our daily lives and always to remember “God loves you” – a message she shares with the LIFE participants and their families. “
I’m the only CSFN ministering at LIFE Pittsburgh and am so grateful the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth bless this ministry,” she said. “This is where I am called to be.”