May 1, 2020

What Matters in a Crisis: Hospital chaplain Kathy Mattone sees the peace her work brings

Linda Harvey


Hospitals have become epicenters of community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic — and all of the fear and heartache that accompanies that. And it’s here that Kathy Mattone sees her faith brought into sharp focus.

“In chaplaincy, the rewards and joys are to bring peace into chaos. We are like an extension cord plugging into the power of God and extending God’s grace to those in the hospital,” said Mattone. “It is about encouragement and seeing God in other people. It is about a ministry of presence and a humbling profession.”

Mattone has served for five years in the two St. Joseph hospitals in Lexington and is the director of spiritual care for the Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), which includes her heading the chaplaincy program for seven hospitals — in Lexington, Nicholasville, Mt. Sterling, Bardstrown (Flaget), Berea and London — where a total of 24 chaplains serve.

“Experiencing the pandemic coronavirus has certainly changed our world. Ironically, spiritual care has become a focal point as people consider their own mortality in light of the virus. It has opened up many opportunities for us to help people try to find meaning and purpose in the middle of chaos,” said Mattone. “We are having many conversations a day with staff, especially about the significance of mission and their ability to bring the healing ministry of Jesus Christ into the world.”

Mattone describes the work of the hospital staff as “heroic” and notes that the chaplains focus much of their work on them. “Our chaplains spend time assessing the stress of our staff and devising ways to energize them with prayer, encouragement notes, chocolate kisses, Scripture fortune cookies, Lifesavers and virtual coffee breaks” she said. “In the nurses’ station, we pray, laugh, share, question, talk about ethical issues and wonder daily, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And often we are privileged to witness what Jesus is actually doing right in our midst.”

Mattone said chaplain visits with patients are more focused on “what is really important” in their lives right now. For many, it is family, security and how can they get well again to be with the people they love. People seem to be more genuine in their interactions, more honest and able to find ways of “touching” others through encouragement, smiles and “air hugs.”

“We are in the waiting rooms talking with families, walking the halls and are in the parking lots as patients and families wait anxiously to hear results of surgeries, exams and tests,” said Mattone.

Mattone has been married to Mark Miller, an electrical engineer, for 36 years. They have four children, ages 30, 26, 25 and 21. In addition to her chaplain role, Mattone, 58, has the experience of being a nurse, educator and operator of a bed and breakfast.

“After a career of serving in different roles, such as a hospice nurse at University of Kentucky Medical Center and a night chaplain at Baptist Health Hospital in Lexington, I had this longing to be back in Catholic health care in order to be able to live and share the richness of my faith tradition,” Mattone said. This longing was fulfilled when she was studying at St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana, and then as clinical instructor for the first semester nursing students at St. Joseph Hospital.

“It was during a prayer in the chapel at that time that I felt a call to chaplaincy. I learned that chaplains extend spiritual care to patients and staff to find purpose and meaning in their diagnosis, health crisis, and their life. Nursing and theology equals chaplaincy,” she said.

She is grateful for the multi-dimensional fruits of her life and for having been born at St. Joseph’s Hospital, which was founded in 1877 by a small group of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky led by Sister Euphrasia Stafford. Their mission was to provide compassionate care to the poor and underserved. Since St. Joseph’s serves people of differing faith traditions, she welcomes learning about them as well. A service that reaches out to a diverse population is called the “Prayer Service and Burial for Life Lost Through Miscarriage.”

“Early infant loss is often discounted by our culture, even though one in four pregnancies ends in loss,” noted Mattone. “This service provides a safe place to express grief and an opportunity to say goodbye with family members. We hope it brings some comfort in the days ahead.”

Anyone who has a loss (up to 15 weeks of pregnancy) can bring the remains to St. Joseph East, where they are placed in tiny containers inside a single casket. They are then entombed in the Calvary Cemetery’s Via Dolorosa Mausoleum in Lexington. Since February 2015, 700 have been buried.