Theology Newsletter | Spring 2022
Changing a student's life can happen in a moment.
Soon after John Hernandez '19 began coursework in the SAU Educator Preparation Program (formerly Teacher Education), his trajectory as a teacher became less clear.
He was thinking about switching his major to Theology especially after he connected with Theology professor Dr. Mara Adams. As it happened, he was in a Theology course with Dr. Adams when he learned that she also worked as a hospital chaplain, a role that Hernandez was already acutely familiar since his wife had recently been briefly hospitalized.
The influence of Dr. Adams and other Theology courses confirmed Hernandez had made the right decision to switch majors.
"I can't say enough about the Theology program: the students, the department itself were amazing," Hernandez said. "The more [classes] I took, the more I enjoyed it."
As Hernandez began his new occupation working for UnityPoint hospitals, he had another set of exceptional worries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day he witnessed firsthand the pandemic's impact on hospital staff: the long hours, rapidly changing health information, and not having a lot of time to fulfill their typical role of comforting patients.
Enter hospital chaplains: a very small group of people who, under stringent COVID-19 rules, were the only other non-family members allowed into patient hospital rooms. (Throughout the pandemic, hospitals only allowed one family member in the room at a time.)
Hernandez – less than a year into his new calling as a hospital chaplain – was there. He tried to comfort those hospitalized with prayers, give them a hand to hold, and provide a listening ear. He saw a lot of miracles, and he knew God was leading him to be near those sick and afraid and support them and their faith.
"[Being a hospital chaplain] is the hardest job and the best job," he admitted.
As he met each patient, Hernandez wanted to connect with them and communicate openly, but it didn't always have to be spiritual or about religion. His goal, Hernandez said, was a "two-way conversation," and he would be whatever the patient needed him to be. If they needed a father figure, he would give gentle advice and encouragement. If they were an armed service veteran like him, he would recognize their unique trauma and offer peace.
When students begin studying Theology, some endure a faith crisis and others - especially when faced with suffering - doubt God. As for Hernandez, he said he didn't experience those emotions, even after long days of sitting with the sick when they passed away.
Looking back, Hernandez said that 20 years ago he wouldn't have had the experience to do what he does today.
"Theology gave me that experience; life gave me that experience," he said, recalling the lessons of being open to learning and change. "You don't know what's going to inspire you, and it might not take you to the same place as you were intending."
–Sophomore Samantha Sancen