Even those who take care of other people need to be taken care of themselves.
That’s the rationale behind the Wellness Day conducted last week for priests of the diocese. Held at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, the day consisted of workshops, a panel discussion and opportunities for various medical tests throughout the day. There were hearing tests, information on avoiding strokes, chances to have blood pressure measured – all as a way to impress upon the clergy the need to be concerned about their physical and emotional health.
Sometimes dedication to ministry can lead priests to forgetting about their own personal health needs. An overzealous schedule can lead to stress that sneaks up on you and manifests itself in weight gain, addictive behaviors or forgetting to cultivate healthy relationships with friends.
Father Tom Haggerty, who spoke during the panel on Achieving Health and Wellness in Body, Mind and Spirit, said that a priest will be of little value to others if he doesn’t take care of himself. He explained how he had fallen into the snares of not maintaining his own health and encountered a battle with alcohol. This month, he will celebrate 30 years of sobriety, after a stay at Guest House in Lake Orion, Mich.
He admits that during his return to ministry, he had to find time for himself, and begin to make healthy choices. His experience led to his appointment to the Bishop’s Addiction Committee, which he currently chairs. The committee intercedes when a priest shows signs of addiction and is in need of a recovery program.
“Addiction also can sidetrack a priest’s spiritual life,” said Father Haggerty, who is retired and lives in Rockaway. “There’s a spiritual side to recovery. Living a whole new quality of life gives us more freedom to build virtue.”
He also suggested that priests learn to delegate decision-making as a way to relieve themselves of stress. “It helps to allow other people to make decisions on their own,” he said.
Also speaking on the panel was Dr. Ira Frankel, who heads the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction Services at Flushing Hospital Medical Center, which assists the diocese in setting up health programs for priests. He stressed the need for a balanced diet and proper exercise as a way of maintaining one’s health.
He suggested that the diocese look into applying for a grant for non-profits that would outfit every priest in Brooklyn and Queens with a Fitbit, a wrist bracelet that measures various bodily functions and counts steps taken during a 24-hour period.
He said that physical exercise can lead to a reduction in stress, a killer disease that causes many other medical problems throughout the body. He said that a half hour a day of physical exercise each day would be beneficial to everyone.
During a question and answer period in a stroke prevention workshop, an older priest asked what he could do to avoid a stroke.
The nurse asked, “How old are you, Father.”
“93,” he replied.
The nurse responded, “Just keep doing whatever you are doing.”