The Place of Prayer, near the Summer Street entrance of the Halifax Infirmary building, is open to patients, their families and staff of all faiths. (Krista Hill Photography)

In a quiet bedside moment, Fred and Kathleen Pellerine give Holy Communion to a patient, followed by a silent prayer. Holy Communion is one way patients of the Christian faith can practice their religion to help them feel at ease. Grateful to be part of the symbolic ceremony, the compassionate husband and wife team not only provide comfort, but are an integral part of the healing process.

As Catholic spiritual care volunteers, the Pellerines help patients connect with their spirituality to find meaning and inspiration during a difficult time in their lives.

“The patients are all very grateful,” says Kathleen, a former nurse at the QEII.

For 25 years, Fred and Kathleen have been helping patients. At least one Sunday a month they visit the hospital. Both are now Eucharistic Ministers and give communion to as many as 40 people during a visit. Sometimes they find older patients awaiting their visit and other times visiting family members will want to take communion with the patient. The Pellerines believe that by giving communion they are sharing some of the patients’ pain and suffering. Through their kindness, they make life a little lighter for someone in need.

“It’s all about the patient and their needs,” says Deacon Wilfred Boudreau who organizes a portion of the Spiritual Care program at the QEII.

“Lots of times we’ll just say a prayer with someone. Sometimes they can’t swallow for communion.”

Fred and Kathleen are two of the 1,100 volunteers supporting more than 250 volunteer programs across the QEII Health Sciences Centre. While the Pellerines provide communion and prayer to Catholic patients, other spiritual care volunteers provide support with healing and recovery to patients with other beliefs or religious affiliations. Volunteers also help patients connect with clergy, denominational chaplains and lay visitors from their faith community.

The Place of Prayer, near the Summer Street entrance of the Halifax Infirmary building, is open to patients, their families and staff of all faiths. Inside the tranquil space, a colourful Tree of Life tapestry hangs on the wall, prayer rugs lie in a corner for Muslims, and in another corner, there are benches for Buddhists to meditate. Every Sunday a Catholic Mass is held in the space.

“Once people come to volunteer and they get into it they just keep coming back,” says Wilfred of the close to 25 volunteers who do Catholic ministry in the hospital. “They’re doing it out of a vocation to serve.”

As a nurse, Kathleen remembers watching nuns giving communion at the bedside and witnessing the comfort they provided. When she retired from her profession in 1995, she wanted to follow in their footsteps and continue with the volunteer work she had started while working.

Fred felt the same way when he retired, not long after Kathleen, from his job as a horticultural supervisor at the Halifax Public Gardens. Realizing that patients are under stress, Fred sometimes uses humour to help. When a patient told him that he didn’t want to take communion one day, Fred piped up that he’d driven all the way from Enfield (about a 35 km drive) to give it to him. After sharing a lighter moment, the patient agreed.

“I truly love the opportunity to be with patients at the health centre. To be in the presence of suffering and to know you can be of help. It is such a gift,” says Fred. “We do get far more out of it than we give. That’s the nature of giving.”