By Ignatius Plato
Jesuits have many stories of being there for others: standing with the overlooked, representing the minority, working alongside the marginalized. Accompaniment is truly the lifeblood of the Jesuit mission. Eileen Croghan, the provincial assistant for healthcare for the Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province, lives this mission with a quiet dedication to the Jesuits she cares for.
Croghan meets annually with every member of the UCS Province, in order to assess their health and help them stay on top of their medical needs. But her connection with them goes far beyond this monitoring of their physical needs; she forms personal connections with the men of the province.
“I see them and go through all their medications with them, make sure they’ve been going to a physician regularly, get them set up with doctors in another city if they’re moving – the typical things,” says Croghan. “But as you talk about things with a Jesuit and spend time with them, you realize how important being there for them is.”
In this sense, Croghan finds that her job goes beyond the norm and extends into the spirit of accompaniment. Take, for example, a recent hospital visit that Croghan made to an ailing Jesuit.
“I was in Colorado when I got the call,” Croghan says. “He was miles away in another state, so I offered to send someone else. But this Jesuit said he knew me and felt comfortable around me. So, I hopped on the plane and made the trip.”
Croghan does not see these unexpected visits as interruptions; she enjoys her role with the Jesuits. Learning the medical history of a Jesuit evolves into discovering their personal history. “As I talk with them in our yearly meetings or sit with them in the hospital, I learn about who they are and what they’ve done, their ministries, their missions,” she says. “One of my favorite experiences in my job is hearing about their favorite experiences from their ministries.”
Walking older Jesuits through end-of-life discussions is one of the most challenging aspects of her role.
“I’m working on a presentation for the men at St. Ignatius Hall, our community for senior Jesuits in St. Louis, on how you discuss end-of-life healthcare with your doctor,” she said. “Even if it’s not in the heat of an emergency, I find that talking about stuff like that with them is difficult. On their end of things, it’s death – talking about that would make anyone uncomfortable. And on my end of things, it has become less like talking to a patient and more like talking with a friend. I have to be there for them as we talk about the things that nobody likes to talk about.”
Despite the challenges of her role, Croghan enjoys accompanying Jesuits in any circumstance. She cooks with them, visits them, eats with them and, above all, lets them know that what they have done in their lives has made a difference in the world. She doesn’t always need to express this explicitly, she says. Instead, she simply accompanies them, giving back the caring presence that these Jesuits gave throughout their lives of service to God’s people.
Croghan recalls a recent hospital visit that especially exemplified this. “I waited in the emergency room with an infirm Jesuit priest, and after we had gotten him moved to a new room, he asked me to read to him – of all things – a book on the Metropolitan Opera. I knew he was a fan of that stuff, so I laughed and said I might butcher the names. So, I read that to him for two hours and it just helped him to calm down. You can’t find things like that in just any medical job.”