HAWAII AT WORK
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sister Candida Oroc helps support the Order of St. Francis ministries by working as a hospital chaplain. Above, Oroc stood next to a painting of one of her inspirations, Mother Marianne Cope, who worked with Hansen's disease patients.
Helping with the healing
Sister Candida Oroc offers spiritual comfort to patients as a hospital chaplain
Sister Candida Oroc has had many jobs, but all of them since she became a nun at age 19 have centered around her desire to bring the comforts of her faith to the sick and needy.
Sister Candida Oroc
Title: Hospital chaplain
Job: Offers spiritual comfort and counseling to patients at Hawaii Medical Center East
Her job for the past 18 years has been as a hospital chaplain at Hawaii Medical Center East in Liliha, which until January had been known as St. Francis Medical Center. The hospital was sold last year by St. Francis Healthcare System to a partnership between CHA LLC
and the Hawaii Physicians Group
, which now pays St. Francis Healthcare to provide spiritual services to the center's patients and staff.
Oroc, now 74, says she was inspired to become a nun by Mother Marianne Cope, who came to Hawaii in 1883 to care for patients with Hansen's disease.
"Listening to the stories by the sisters who knew her, I was inspired by her story and decided to become a sister and do what she did. I felt like if she could do it, I could do it. I felt called to be a sister of St. Francis."
Oroc said she learned about Cope while attending St. Francis School in Manoa. Oroc was born and raised in Makaweli, Kauai, but, "Kauai had no Catholic schools at that time," she said, "and my parents wanted me to go to a Catholic school, so I became a resident student (at St. Francis). My father was a sugar cane worker, and my parents sacrificed to send me to school. It was a lot of money."
After St. Francis, Oroc earned a bachelor's degree in education from Chaminade University, a master's degree in education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a second master's degree, in theology, from St. Bonaventure University in New York.
Oroc lives in a convent not far from the hospital, with five other nuns and her cat, Pace (which in Italian means "peace"). Her only brother, Epifanio, now retired, was a sugar company supervisor. Her mother, Candida, a socially active homemaker, died in 1970. Her father, Gregorio, is still alive, on track to turn 103 next month.
"He's a very good man," she said. "Maybe that's where I got my tenacity and courage. ... He was very active and a joker. I think that's what has kept him going."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sister Oroc works with a wide group of people as chaplain at Hawaii Medical Center East. Above, Oroc, center, this month posed with some of the ambulatory care services staff: from left, Kimberly Bobbitt, Rosalia Lay, Lorrie Torres, Gloria Gervacio, Leigh-Ann Gorai and Jacqueline Ng.
What distinguishes a chaplain from a regular member of your clergy?
Sister Candida Oroc: I'm a hospital chaplain, and I was approved by the bishop at that time, and I had to go through extensive training.
Q: Do you get a salary?
A: Yes I do. Right now I work for St. Francis Healthcare System, and we are outsourced to Hawaii Medical Center. I'm part of a team of eight. I think I'm the senior one because I've been here 18 years.
Q: If you're a sister, aren't all your expenses already taken care of?
A: Correct. In other words, because of my vows (to live a life of obedience, chastity, and poverty), and because I live in a community (a convent), I personally don't have any money. The community handles that.
Q: Your salary goes to support the community.
A: Correct. And the rest goes to support the ministries, because we have a lot of ministries.
Q: So they put all you sisters to work, huh?
A: Yes. A change of occupation is recreation. (Laughter) I was a principal, I was an administrator, at Catholic schools in Hawaii. Then I was assistant director of religious education for the state (for the Catholic schools). So I visited every parish prior to becoming a chaplain. And all that led to what I am doing now.
Q: What are your hours at the hospital?
A: Well I come in at 6:30, and then it varies. I usually try to be home by 2, but I usually get home by 4, because when you work with the sick, you can't say, "Oh, it's time for me to stop." You usually just really realize it's over and time to go home.
The whole day starts with prayer, which is our mass and prayer service.
Q: At the hospital?
A: At home and at the hospital. By home, I mean the convent.
Q: Where is that?
A: It's down at Liliha Street. There's six of us.
Q: About how many patients do you work with on any particular day?
A: It varies. Maybe about 30.
Q: What is the range of their ailments?
A: Oh my. Well let's begin with before they go to surgery. Then there's ICU (intensive care), where they're recuperating from major surgery. Then you have a floor where they come in for other surgeries. Or they are diabetics who come in for complications. Then you have the oncology department, for people with cancer, and you have the heart department, which is where they have heart complications.
Q: You go to all those places?
A: In a day's time. But it doesn't mean I see everyone, because what we do is, we're assigned a basic floor.
One of the things we do in the beginning is we meet the new patients and we do an assessment. The assessment gives us an idea of how they are to be serviced in the spiritual area. And because we're not all Catholics, I'm a Catholic nun and I introduce myself as one, but I tell them we respect all spiritual traditions.
There are a lot of Buddhists here, for example, and we explain that while they're in the hospital, we wish them well, that they will heal properly, and that we will pray for them. And in the 18 years I've been here, they all appreciate it. There are some that don't want to be revisited, but we wish them well, too.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sister Oroc spoke in the hallway with Dr. Antonio Cordero, chief of the hospital's orthopedic section.
Do you ever speak or visit with people other than Catholics at the hospital?
A: Oh, many times, yes.
Q: What about agnostics or atheists? Ever hang out with them?
A: If they're here, yes. I've had experiences with them. They're beautiful people And my role is to listen. Not to make any judgments. Only God knows what's in their hearts, and it's very relieving for them to share.
Some have expressed that they don't believe in God; I just nod my head. Most of the time they do believe in something but they don't know how to name it. And it's not my place to do any kind of religious education. It's not my place to change anyone, because you'll just make them sicker. (Laughter) My place is to listen.
Q: What is the range of their ages and backgrounds?
A: Oh, it depends on their illness. We don't take children. We take them from 18 years and on. Many are in the 40s and 50s. Cancer hits everybody. We have a patient that's 105.
Q: What is he in for?
A: Palliative care, I'm sure. They're weak. We want to give them comfort.
Q: Do you give last rites very often?
A: No, I do not give last rites. I give only blessings. Let me clarify that. For the Catholics, I do not give the anointing of the sick. That is reserved for the priests. We can do last rites, but last rites is really the process of helping the sick die. Anointing of the sick is part of the last rites.
Q: What kind of things did you have to learn to become a chaplain?
A: Well, you need a theology background, listening skills ... And then, you know, when we do the actual training, how to respond when people talk to us. Besides all the medical terms that we have to know, we do actual on-the-job training, then talk with our supervisor to relate what has occurred.
Q: Are you trained at all in medical procedures, like in case there's an emergency and there's nobody else around but you?
A: Oh no. I don't touch any medical. It's not my place. I could get sued. (Laughter) Even if you knew what to do, you always call for the medical staff. I'm there for the support system, for courage, prayer, to help with the healing.
Q: Dealing with all the tragedies and illnesses every day must be very emotionally draining.
A: It can be, but there's a Source, and with that Source it's not as emotionally draining as you would think.
You get physically tired, because it's a lot of meeting people, and indirectly like the counseling time, but it's not that emotionally draining because of God's presence.
Like when I walk into a room, I don't walk in alone. I've trained myself to be aware that God is always around. I call it bringing in God's presence. So when I go in, I know I'm not alone, and when I'm listening, I know God is listening, too. And usually the patients seem to acknowledge and accept that.
Q: What's the best thing you like about your job?
A: That I bring God. They (the patients) don't even have to know that, but there is healing happening. And that kind of makes you happy. I've made the world a better world by just being in this little corner of the world.
Q: What's the biggest downside of what you do?
A: Just being physically tired at the end of the day. But thank God I have a place to go and recreate again.
Q: What do you do in your time off?
A: I love to garden. And then I have a pet cat. Her name is Pace, which is Italian for peace. Of course, I like to read, to keep up with my work, my spiritual reading. And I read anything in the newspaper about gardening.
Q: What are you growing?
A: Orchids. The only vegetable I have is the potato. And I grow herbs, like basil, mints, green onions.