With a mild and warm manner and the remarkable ability to remember names, Rev. James Bracke, C.S.C., is well-suited for his position as staff chaplain. But even with the best of memories, and the part-time help of Rev. Tim O’Connor, C.S.C., there are 4,500 staff members. It’s challenging to tend to the needs of so many. The secret is there are helpers.
For instance, when a staff member passes away, Human Resources lets Father Bracke know so he can reach out to the family. But when a staff member loses a loved one, it’s often a co-worker who shares the news with a member of the Pastoral Outreach Team or with Father Bracke himself. The team is made up of a dozen staff members from various departments. He is grateful to them and would like an even deeper bench.
“Thirty to 40 team members would be ideal, because we have a number of departments that are not represented,” Father Bracke said. Better representation from across the University would increase the likelihood that word of a loss gets to him.
As the name suggests, the Pastoral Outreach Team does more than provide information to the chaplain; the members also support staff in their times of need.
“Pastoral outreach is a way of reaching out to those who have lost someone through death. We want to let those grieving know that we’re here for you. We support you. We may send a card or a note or attend a funeral, but hopefully the message received is that the Notre Dame family is there for each other,” Father Bracke said.
Because grief is a very personal process, those grieving may need encouragement long after a loved one is laid to rest. This is why a grief support group for staff is in the works. The first meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 22, at noon via Zoom. Eventually, the group will meet in person. A faculty grief support group, led by faculty chaplain Rev. Frank Murphy, C.S.C., has been meeting for some time and also currently meets via Zoom.
“A grief support group for staff is a natural follow up to the pastoral outreach because when we connect with ‘John Smith’ and he’s having a really hard time, we can say, ‘Well, John, we have the grief support group that meets here on campus,’" Father Bracke said. “Sometimes what people need is a safe place — a confidential, trusting place — where they can share from their hearts the terrible pain they’re going through because of the loss of someone very precious to them.”
There are also caregiver support groups for staff and faculty.
“I think community is important. By coming together, we can find strength from each other,” Father Bracke said.
He added that the grief support groups give those in the caregiver support groups a place to turn if and when caring turns to grieving.
“Someone who has been caregiving for years is totally lost when all of a sudden the person he or she has been caring for dies. Not only does that person feel the grief of the loss, but the individual’s whole schedule of life is turned upside down,” Father Bracke said.
If you feel called to join the staff Pastoral Outreach Team or attend a faculty or staff caregiver support group or a faculty or staff grief support group, please email Father Bracke (James.A.Bracke.firstname.lastname@example.org) or Father Murphy (email@example.com).
“For those struggling, we want to offer support,” Father Bracke said.