Decades in the classroom shape Uggetti into an adept spiritual care director
Butte, MT - John Uggetti took a long road to get to his current position as spiritual care director at St. James Healthcare. He made a pivot in life after spending 29 years at Butte High School. He coached football and taught business classes before moving into computer network support for Butte School District Number 1.
“I enjoyed teaching very much and realized I needed a change after so many years. I was tired of doing the same job over and over,” said Uggetti.
Uggetti would come to the hospital to visit his cousin battling cancer. It was during those visits that he got a sense of the work the chaplains do. Knowing John very well, Sister Mary Agnes encouraged Uggetti to look into chaplaincy.
His cousin eventually passed away and when Uggetti’s son was born shortly after that, they named him Mario after his cousin. Born premature, his son spent six weeks in the NICU at Benefis in Great Falls and then another six months in isolation at St James Hospital in Butte. He watched his baby overcome incredible obstacles.
“I guess that gave me a wake-up call about life a little bit, too.”
In 2007, he started the Ackerman program for the Diocese of Helena. He was ordained in June of 2012 and serves as a Deacon at St. Anne’s Parish. He credits the high school students for helping prepare him the most for chaplaincy and spiritual care.
“They taught me more about life and how to handle situations and how to handle people.
Sunday, October 24, marked the beginning of Spiritual Care week. A hospital chaplain offers spiritual guidance and pastoral care to patients and their families. They are trained to work with people of all faiths or no faith, and they provide crisis intervention, grief and bereavement counseling, family support counseling, staff counseling, and pre-surgical counseling.
In 2015, 70 percent of nearly 5 thousand hospitals surveyed provided pastoral care services, up from 53 percent in 2002, according to the American Hospital Association.
“My job entails visiting the sick and listening to their stories — what they have to say — and I’ll listen to them and just offer them compassion and support and walk along with them in their journey if they allow you to. Also, working with them and being with them at the end of life — which sometimes can be difficult,” said Uggetti.
But his job is also rewarding. He loves working with people.
“I remember one particular case where the guy kept on telling me he’s an atheist but he liked to visit with me and he was born and raised in Butte and it was coming to his end of life and the nurse said he wanted to see me. And he said, ‘John I gotta talk to you. You know I don’t know if I’m an atheist or not. I think on the other side a little bit.’
Uggetti said he struck up a pretty good relationship with that patient. He listened as the man told him his life history, then as the man cried recounting his children’s deaths — one to drug addiction.
“He was able to get all that off his chest. It was sort of rewarding for me — just to listen and say that we’re not judgmental and no matter what happens in your life, God is full of mercy.”
Uggetti says it’s a touching area of people’s lives to walk through and he doesn’t do it alone. His team includes Father Porter, a catholic priest-chaplain, Madeline LeFay, spiritual care associate, and two clinical pastoral education students. There are also several volunteer chaplains and all the area priests serve one or two nights a week to be on call for emergency anointing.
Someone from the spiritual care department is available 24 hours a day. According to Uggetti, they care for those who are poor and vulnerable while always maintaining a non-judgmental presence.
SCL Health is a faith-based, nonprofit healthcare organization dedicated to improving the health of the people and communities we serve. Founded by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in 1864, our health network provides comprehensive, coordinated care through eight hospitals, more than 180 physician clinics, home health, hospice, mental health, and safety-net services in Colorado and the Montana Wyoming region.