e-mail us

Cover story

Parish Nurse: Sr. Jean Canora, Pleasant Valley, N.Y.

Sr. Jean Canora has logged 51 years as a Franciscan -- all of them in health care. For years the New Yorker worked among Native Americans in South Dakota. In the early 1990s while developing programs for seniors, Canora traveled to some 50 parishes in upstate New York.

Most of the parishes were in small towns and rural areas. When she talked about getting volunteers to transport seniors, to help them with errands and medical appointments, just to listen to those shut-in and lonely, “parish nursing just fell into it,” she said.

In 1996 Canora met with Catholic clergy in Dutchess County, showed them a video about parish nursing and talked of the need for outreach to seniors and others in the area.

Fr. Charles Quinn, pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., offered Canora a job coordinating the Samaritan’s Outreach Ministry at the 1,400-family parish. The church’s permanent deacon, John Dunn, and his wife, Nancy, are both nurses with years of experience in mental health and geriatrics. The Dunns coordinate St. Stanislaus’ Health Care Ministry.

Canora and Nancy Dunn work together almost daily, planning and carrying out caregiver workshops, bereavement seminars, parenting classes, networking with nursing homes, and making hospital and home visits.

“I feel like a dispatcher,” said Canora, who spends a lot of time on the phone “finding out who needs what, when and where.”

“There’s spirituality in all we do here,” noted Dunn, who with her husband offers a “healthy heart” program, modeled on that of the American Heart Association. They “stress the importance of the love of Jesus and consecration to His Sacred Heart. Some will never be physically healed, but all can be spiritually healed,” said Dunn.

Dunn has also hosted an age-appropriate introduction to puberty and adolescence for fifth graders about to enter middle school. The class was designed to add a Christian dimension to what the children receive in health classes in public schools. “We teach them about the preciousness of their bodies because they are made in God’s image,” said Dunn. In addition, Confirmation classes for seventh and eighth graders treat abstinence, dating, peer pressure and mood changes.

Canora, who lives in the Franciscan community at St. Francis Hospital in nearby Poughkeepsie, involves the hospital in the parish’s health care ministry, inviting personnel to speak at the church. Last year she and Dunn arranged a workshop on holistic health that stretched from aromatherapy to yoga and attracted a large group. She has also invited speakers to share their knowledge of the mind and memory, diabetes and breast cancer. She plans sessions on men’s health issues, asthma and allergies.

Convinced that travel is restorative of health, Canora often plans day trips for parishioners, and has taken them on bus tours to shrines in Massachusetts and Quebec.

Home visits are among the most gratifying parts of Carona’s work, even if at times they make her sad, she said. “Many families, especially those in the rural areas, are so problematic. They are distressed, disjointed and often don’t talk to each other. Often all a parish nurse can do is listen,” she said -- adding that sometimes she knows she’s the only one listening.

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2002