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WRNMMC Clinical Chaplain selected as finalist for Lumen Christi award


Lt. Col. Father John “Frank” O’Grady is one of eight finalists for the prestigious award

AJ Simmons
WRNMMC Command Communications

Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John “Frank” O’Grady, a Catholic Clinical chaplain at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was recently selected as one of eight finalists for the Lumen Christi Award.
The award, described by O’Grady to be “like a Nobel Peace Prize for Catholics,” was introduced by the Catholic Extension Society in 1977 to recognize members of the church who use faith to make a difference in the lives of others and the world around them.
The Lumen Christi—or “Light of Christ”—receives nominees from 45 Dioceses across the United States each year, which are then reduced to eight finalists before the winner is selected by a committee of judges.
“I was surprised. They told me they were submitting my name back in March, and I thought nothing of it,” said O’Grady, humbly admitting that he had not expected to become a finalist. Several months later, he received word that he—along with seven others—had been selected from 45 nominees as finalists for the award.
His nomination came in recognition of 24 years of military service as an Army chaplain among the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Service.
In his nomination of O’Grady for the award, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio explained that O’Grady has provided “compassionate pastoral care…to active duty military personnel and their families in South Korea, German and throughout the United States.”
Broglio went on to acknowledge O’Grady’s commitment to pastoral care in times of crisis: O’Grady received an Army Commendation Medal after 9/11 for his “leadership, dedication to duty and calm professional demeanor” as he spent five nights attending to survivors and the families of victims at the Pentagon. O’Grady’s career has been defined by answering the call of service in moments such as this.
A native of Ireland, O’Grady came to the United States in 1978 to serve at the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. This would eventually lead him to joining the Army Reserves several years later.
“Joining the Reserves was a bit of a strange thing, because the commander used to attend Catholic mass at the parish where I served. He came in after mass one evening, and he asked me, ‘Will you come do mass for the Soldiers?’” O’Grady explained. “I told him, ‘If the boss agrees, I can do it.’ So I got permission then to join them from the bishop.” Shortly thereafter, O’Grady said, he was asked to join the Army Reserves.
In 1994, O’Grady came to active duty as a chaplain and is now in his 24th and final year of service before retiring. At 72 years of age, O’Grady is the oldest chaplain serving in the Army.
His duties at WRNMMC are defined by continuous, caring support for patients and their families. In particular, O’Grady provides pastoral care to patients in the Intensive Care Units, Emergency Room and various other units throughout the hospital.
“The qualities of hope and peace and faith are all connected,” said O’Grady, explaining his work at the hospital. “You bring peace to people in a way by showing them that they’re going to get well taken care of while they’re here. You bring hope to people with the fact that ups and downs are a part of life. The way to deal with it is to take every day as it comes to you. Don’t worry about next week. You take every day as it comes.”
In particular, O’Grady emphasized the importance of hope for patients at the hospital in his work: “A symbol of hope [is] the biggest thing, combined with listening. It breeds acceptance. People accept their situation when they see that there’s hope there that perhaps they can be turned around. We say religion is very often turning over a new page and starting all over again, and every day is a new day, and not to be discouraged and to be hopeful.”
Hope, O’Grady noted, can be as simple as providing a sense of a respectful community in the hospital. “When we encounter [patients and their families], we treat them as human beings, and we respect them. That’s, I think, very much a part of healing, too,” said O’Grady. “It’s like creating a kind of home away from home. The room can be a kind of a home for the patients, and that is their temporary home while they’re here.”
O’Grady’s work is not limited to the patients and their families, though. He and the other chaplains in the WRNMMC Office of Pastoral Care offer monthly resiliency events for staff members of various departments, such as the Intensive Care Units, the Emergency Room and Respiratory Therapy. The events, he explained, are brief meetings in which staff members discuss life concerns and issues.
“We deal with human issues: marriage, relationships, conflicts, personalities and stress,” said O’Grady. “It’s just the outreach—they appreciate that. It’s something to get a discussion going, and we’ll discuss for maybe 10 to 12 minutes.”
O’Grady noted the significance of connecting with staff members on a human level, saying, “It’s just something to show the staff that we care. We preach religion on Sundays, but they’re going to be more impressed that we reach out to them in care. They’re more interested in what you have to offer them at a human level before they start getting interested in what you offer in any other level.”
Retiring at the end of this year, O’Grady explained that being awarded the Lumen Christi award would be a touching recognition of the WRNMMC Pastoral Care team’s work. He said, “I’m going to be retiring after 54 years. I think it’s kind of an affirmation of the work that we do. I think it shows the value that people place on the work that we do.”
He continued that the award could also increase the interest for members of the church to serve as chaplains. “Maybe some of them will think about the military,” he said. “We can bring a religious tone—a religious element—to the healing process.”
According to the Catholic Extension Society’s website, the winner of the Lumen Christi award will be announced in mid-Fall. For now, though, O’Grady continues to focus on helping patients and families through his brand of compassion, care, teamwork and faith.
To learn more about the Pastoral Care programs at WRNMMC, visit the Pastoral Care web page at www.wrnmmc.capmed.mil or call (301) 295-1510.