In 2012 I met the new principal of Father Duenas Memorial School, Father Jeffrey San Nicolas. The late Mr. Tony Thompson and Father Jeff expressed their interest in supporting LifeWorks Guam and Rainbows for All Children Guam a 501C3 not for profit organization helping children faced with painful life-altering crises.
In September 2012 LifeWorks Guam spearheaded a staff development session for the faculty and parents of FDMS on suicide awareness, prevention and intervention education. After my presentation, Father Jeff expressed his interest in the suicide awareness, prevention and intervention program. Whenever possible Father Jeff would be our special guest during Celebrate Me Day with Rainbows for All Children Guam. He would also partake as one of our spiritual reflective speakers together with Pastor Robert Paulino during the LifeWorks Guam Out of the Darkness Candlelight Memorial Service in memory of loved ones who have died from suicide. Their presence made a remarkable difference in our service.
March 2020, I received a very passionate phone call from Father Jeff. He communicated in his humble words, his wish to partake in our virtual suicide prevention Zoom classes starting September 2020, October 2020 and November 2020. I was ecstatic when I heard of his great interest in suicide prevention. This is a perfect partnership, and our roles are clearly defined as we did our virtual presentations. I strongly believe that one vital component of suicide prevention is hearing from a member of the clergy. It is reflective and persuasive to have spiritual perspective on the topic of suicide prevention.
We were a team in our presentation on this very sensitive, heartbreaking and real event that has affected Guam more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people’s lives across the board are suffering from economic stress, isolation and emotional, psychological, and physical social distancing. At times, lack of refuge in our churches may create an environment of desperation.
Besides Father Jeff’s enormous responsibilities as vicar general of the Archdiocese of Agana, he also serves as the chaplain at Guam Memorial Hospital. He felt a fervent call of service as a Catholic priest to administer the last rites such as anointing of the sick, hearing confession, and blessing of the ailing and dying patients. For these reasons he convinced Archbishop Byrnes to allow him to volunteer to be the chaplain at GMH.
Given how easily the virus spreads, family members and visitors are currently restricted to visit their loved ones at the ICU. Chaplains need to be innovative so that families do not feel their loved ones are dying alone. The hospital procedure for Father Jeff - full personal protection equipment: N95, glass face shield, gloves, hairnet, gown; then go straight to the patient’s room. He administers to his patients their last rites with words of faith and spirituality, anointing them with prayers of reconciliation and words of mercy, forgiveness, courage and hope while holding their hands with his gloved hands for comfort that they are not alone. More importantly, he helps the patients prepare the last moments of their lives with the Lord with serenity as family members grieve the loss of their loved ones from a distance with comfort, solace and courage in their hearts.
As I learned more about Father Jeff’s background, the more amazed I am at him, his gentle ways, following the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. He chose to be a Catholic priest because he has experienced the abundance love of Christ in him. He chose to be a chaplain at a time of the uncertainty of the coronavirus when everyone else shuns it because he feels it is an honor and great privilege to be with his dying patients as they journey to the gates of heaven. He shares how truly blessed he is by honoring God’s glory by doing His corporal works of mercy.
When Father Jeff goes home, he has to take the COVID-19 test and quarantine himself while waiting for the result of the test. He follows strict protocols.
To all front liners and essential workers, your bravery and valor to keep on with your work continues to inspire us. Our prayers are with you as you do service above self. For Father Jeff, you are truly God-sent to mankind bringing peace and harmony on this earth. You are fulfilling God’s words and purpose in your life.
Take care all, one day soon COVID-19 will pass and we will slowly be back to normal.
Marie Virata Halloran is certified in death and grief studies and is executive director of Rainbows for All Children Guam/LifeWorks Guam.