Ascension St. Vincent offers Clinical Pastoral Education

By Tim Lilley

The Message editor

Author's note: Testimonials from three people who have completed at least one unit of clinical pastoral education appear at the bottom of this story.

Sean Doll O’Mahoney is the manager of clinical pastoral education for Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis. The program is looking for individuals who are interested in taking up – or expanding – a call to ministry by enrolling in a five-month program, based in Evansville, to provide one accredited unit of education using the clinical method of learning.

The Ascension St. Vincent website describes the five-month program this way:

“Intended for qualified persons — lay and ordained — who wish to discern their future ministry options, hone their ministry skills or prepare to do a CPE residency. The program seeks to accommodate persons with commitments (e.g. job or profession) that do not permit fulltime CPE.”

Think hands-on; getting real experience, with feedback from peers and licensed educators.

“This is an opportunity for individuals to find their own styles and voices as chaplains,” Doll O’Mahoney explained. “They will find their own unique ways to thrive in this role, and they will learn from peers.”

Ascension St. Vincent has offered CPE at various locations across Indiana, but this will be the first time the training is available in Evansville. “We are excited about this, and hope to have a program starting in January 2020,” Doll O’Mahoney said. It will run through late May and will involve 400 hours of training: 100 hours with 4-6 peers and a certified educator, and the remaining hours serving in an intern-style setting.

“We use a clinical method of learning,” he explained. “It involves action-reflection-new action. So people will share their experiences of walking with others; they will share what they experienced and learned, and they will receive feedback from peers and the educator to help them move forward and continue refining their voice and ability.”

Doll O’Mahoney noted that respecting the dignity of every human life is a foundational element of Ascension St. Vincent’s healthcare ministry. As such, those who practice this kind of ministry will encounter people from all walks of life. “We are all on journeys,” he said, “and every journey is unique. It is important for those who serve in chaplaincy roles to develop the skills necessary to walk with everyone they encounter, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs – or their journeys.”

He said that candidates for the program include those already in the healthcare profession, like doctors, nurses and others; and those who are already involved in ministry at some level.

“One model includes healthcare professionals interested in doing better in their spiritual counseling of those they encounter,” Doll O’Mahoney said. “They want to develop their capabilities and skills.

“Volunteer ministers also may be interested in the program,” he added. “Maybe they serve as a Eucharistic Minister or Lector, or they are active in parish ministries to visit the sick or homebound, and they are ready to expand their service to a wider community. This training will help them learn how to pray with, listen to and honor the lives of those they encounter.”

After completing one educational unit, students are qualified to apply for part-time chaplaincy work. Doll O’Mahoney said that four full units are required for certification that can lead to full-time employment as a chaplain. “This program will get people involved in CPE,” he explained. “Many people are employed full-time, but they want to do more in ministry. This is a wonderful opportunity to achieve that.”

For information on Ascension St. Vincent’s CPE program and/or to apply for a spot in the January 2020 class, contact Doll O’Mahoney directly at 317-338-9874 or email [email protected]. For more information on chaplaincy, visit the National Association of Catholic Chaplains’ website,


How CPE helps

Special to The Message

Three people who have completed at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education share with our readers their thoughts and experiences with the program and its benefits.

Linda Cirillo, BCC – As a retired military officer, I returned to the university and graduated with a master’s degree in Spiritual and Pastoral Care. Upon graduation, I enrolled in one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. During this unit of study, I performed clinical work at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. I received the skills and tools necessary for me to discern where God was calling me to serve him at this time in my life. Since I felt called to be a Hospital Chaplain, I applied and was accepted for a CPE Residency Program (involving 4 units of CPE) at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington D.C. Upon completion of the CPE Residency Program, I applied to become – and became – a board-certified Chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. During the last 15 years, I have worked as a Hospital Chaplain throughout the East Coast and Midwest; served my local Parish as a Eucharistic Minister and Lector; and currently volunteer as a Chaplain/Spiritual Director for women in jail and prison.

Cirillo is a Chaplain at Ascension St Vincent Hospital, Evansville, and a member of Sts. Mary and John Parish, Evansville.

Deacon Michael Jones – Participating in a Clinical Pastoral Education program was one of the best learning experiences of my life. It utilized an adult form of learning that respected the pastoral experience and theological education that I brought to the table. CPE built on this foundation while challenging me to go further in my own spiritual and pastoral formation. It was both an affirming and humbling experience. I learned my strengths as well as my growing edges and discovered that I was much more capable than I ever realized. As I plumbed the depths of my humanity, I deepened my understanding of the sacredness of all life, and its basic goodness amid its messiness and complexity. CPE helped me to grow in confidence regarding my pastoral skills while helping me to develop new ones. It helped me to trust that God can use even a limited human being like myself to be a healing presence to others. I would encourage any person interested in the ministry of pastoral care to enroll in a unit of CPE.