Caring for others in need comes naturally for Dana Territo.
"For me, it's a gift to be with someone that is suffering because I can help them or at least be there to listen to their issues," said Territo, a former longtime employee at the Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area.
The retired Territo, 61, wants to continue her gift of caring. She is one of three people who recently completed the Stephen Ministries training program at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
Stephen Ministries is a nondenominational organization based in St. Louis that trains and organizes lay people to provide Christ-centered care to those in need. It was founded in 1975 and named after the Apostle Stephen, one of the first laymen in the first-century church who cared for the widows in the Book of Acts.
St. Aloysius is one of at least four churches in the Baton Rouge area with Stephen Ministries programs. Others include St. Luke's Episcopal Church, St. James Episcopal Church and Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.
Stephen ministers must complete a rigorous 50-hour training program before being commissioned and assigned for weekly one-on-one contact with someone who needs care, usually members of their respective congregations.
"It's not my working. It's the work of the Holy Spirit, and we're just instruments of God, and he guides us to care for these persons that are suffering," said Territo, who participated in the Stephen Ministries at St. Aloysius because it was not offered at her church, St. Jude Catholic Church. "I felt called. My background is dealing with people with Alzheimer's, so I know what caregivers go through and really thought they could benefit from a caring companion."
The gift of caring started manifesting at an early age for Territo with members of her own family. The native of Corpus Christi, Texas, was the fourth of nine children.
"I had a grandmother who had cancer, and my parents moved me in her room when I was 11 years old, so I've just liked being a caregiver all my life almost," she said. "It just seemed natural. You cared for the people you love."
Later, Territo cared for her father in his battle with dementia.
For 77-year-old retired nurse Marie Hebert, caring was part of her job for so long. Now, it's part of her ministry as a Stephen Ministries trainer and leader at St. Aloysius.
"This was an opportunity for me to continue what I loved doing all through my working years and also to serve God by serving others, and helping them work through problems they might be having," she said.
Hebert said St. Aloysius was the first parish in the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge to offer the Stephen Ministries program. In 2013, she attended an intensive one-week training session in Dallas to be a leader.
"I just had a calling to do this. It's something God wanted me to be doing," she said. "You follow the calling."
Robert Schoen, another of the Stephen Ministries leaders at St. Aloysius, said he felt called to the ministry after working 41 years at an area chemical plant.
"I had recently retired, and I never volunteered for anything in my whole life," said the 70-year-old Schoen. "I was a workaholic. After I retired, I just decided it was time to do something out in the community."
Schoen said he was encouraged by Hebert and inspired by the Stephen Ministries theme verse from Galatians 6:2: "Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
"After you read that, you have to ask yourself, 'Are you going to do something about that?' or are you going to say, 'Well, that's nice.' I just decided I was going to so something about it," he said.
Territo said Stephen ministers, who are not allowed to approach or recruit care recipients, use prayer and the word of God to help people still hurting from issues such as divorce, grief over the loss of a loved one or transition in life.
Hebert said a Stephen minister doesn't act as a counselor but as a "spiritual confidant."
"This is not a counseling service. This is merely a Christian working with someone who is going through a difficult time in their life, and the assurance that whatever they share with a Stephen minister is going to stay with that Stephen minister," Hebert said.
"Confidentiality is extremely high on our list of priorities," Schoen said.
So is just listening to the person getting the care, Schoen said.
"Ninety percent of Stephen Ministry is showing up," he said.
Hebert said Stephen ministers must have patience, an even temperament, compassion and must be "very comforting, loving and spiritual," characteristics she found in Territo, Keith Colvin and Ann Ourso, who will be commissioned as Stephen ministers in a 9 a.m. ceremony May 19 at St. Aloysius, 2025 Stuart Ave.
"They are so spiritual, and they can give so much," Hebert said. "It's just so perfect to have them doing this ministry."
Territo is grateful for the training she received under St. Aloysius leaders Scheon, Hebert and Kathy Nikolaus.
"They were the ones who are doing the hard work in instructing us, and I really respect them for that," she said.
In June, Territo will spend a week in Orlando, Florida, to be trained to become a Stephen ministry leader.
“I’m very grateful to be going through the program and learning like I did," Territo said. "It’s opened a lot of doors that I didn’t know were going to be opened. It’s God’s timing, and I just followed his call.”
Patience, faith of Job
We celebrate the story of Job because we know how the story ends. We can shout because through all the trouble, pain, heartache, body aches, questionable friends and a wife with a bad attitude through 41 long chapters, Job found blessings and restoration in that final 42nd chapter.
Shout "hallelujah" and praise God because just like he brought Job through his grief and mess God can do the same for you and for me. BUT let me point your attention to where to I got my first shout in these Job story. It was way back in Chapter 1. You know how the story starts: Satan was looking to mess with one of God's servants. God asked Satan if he considered Job. Satan said Job was faithful only because he was walking in the blessings of God. God said go ahead and test him but don't kill him.
The tests came quickly and with lots of intensity. In short order, Job lost his wealth and all his 10 children but not his mind or his praise. After such a great loss, here's what Job did that caused me to shout in Job 1:20: "Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. THEN HE FELL TO THE GROUND IN WORSHIP." Huh? He worshipped God? He didn't throw in the towel, quit, consider suicide, play the blame game, stop trusting God, become depressed? He worshipped God.
Wait, there's more. In Verse 21, Job says “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Crazy isn't it?
Wait, there's more. Verse 22 says, "In all this, Job DID NOT SIN by charging God with wrongdoing."
We sometimes ask for the patience and even the faithfulness of Job, not realizing the trials and tests we have to go through. No tests, no testimony. In a way, Job's ultimate testimony scares us because even though he was blessed at the end, he went through hell to get there, a hell many of us can't begin to imagine and would have succumbed to. Some of us are going through trials and difficulties right now — and they have tested us to our core. I know it's hard but let's just start how Job did: worship God. Worship God through your tears, pain and questions. It's the only way to make it through.