Deacons, who are often at the front lines in consoling parishioners suffering personal loss, are being encouraged to support an archdiocese-wide plan to create parish-based mental health ministries. 

Ed Hopfner, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life, and others involved in planning the project made their pitch to a group of about 50 permanent deacons, diaconate candidates and their wives during a diaconate training day May 4 at Mater Dolorosa Church in South San Francisco. 

“This is person-to-person ministry. It’s not a sacramental ministry, but it’s a very important ministry where the deacons and their wives can be involved,” Hopfner told Catholic San Francisco. 

Hopfner organized the day featuring presentations by three grief and mental health experts with a triple purpose: to de-stigmatize the nature of grief, mental health and suicide; to better educate deacons about different kinds of loss; and to gain their support for creating volunteer-led mental health ministries at every parish in the archdiocese. 

“If you are suffering from grief and I come and sit with you, I take on some of the suffering,” Hopfner said. “Shared suffering is lessened suffering.” 

Last year, the Archdiocese of San Francisco was one of five dioceses in the nation to win a two-year grant from the University of San Diego to establish mental health ministries based on a model launched by the Diocese of San Diego in 2015.  

In San Diego, parish ministry teams composed of trained volunteers serve as “prayerful companions” to fellow parishioners experiencing mental or emotional challenges. They do not serve a counseling capacity but walk suffering people through the treatment process including locating mental health services. 

The grant will help the Archdiocese of San Francisco do the same. 

“We’ve got a big problem and it is growing,” said Dick Collyer, who was hired last summer as project manager to lead the archdiocese’s mental health ministry. His job over the next two years and perhaps beyond will be to assist parishes as they develop their individual mental health ministries. 

In coming months, the concept will be pitched to clergy and Collyer also will visit parishes to educate parishioners who may want to train for a parish mental health ministry role. Professional experience is not the main qualifier. 

“It’s the spiritual accompaniment that is the most important,” Collyer said.   

Full story at Catholic San Francisco