Daniel Olivieri, MDiv, BCC — Hospital Chaplain
Daniel Olivieri is a lay Catholic chaplain at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, CA. He is Board Certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). After completing his Master of Divinity degree at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley and the year-long Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at the multi-cultural, interfaith Institute for Health and Healing at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, he began his work at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose. Dan has spent the last 13 years at Dominican Hospital, ministering to 20 or more patients or family members, and special calls each day.
Few surmise or suspect the turmoil and glory of the Paschal Mystery carried in the heart of the layman who goes from room to room in the hospital to listen, to pray, to be present.
A Life-giving Ministry
Dan finds his ministry life-giving. He practices an interfaith, patient-centered ministry that honors the faith, beliefs, and values of each person he is with. He finds he is transformed as he is present to the transformation of the patients he serves. With a background spiritual formation in both Redemptorist and Franciscan traditions, Dan’s ministry and personal spirituality are based on his experience of Christ, the Word made Flesh, as the perfect image of God and the perfect image of our true selves.
“In my being is the Spirit of God. The devil cannot bear light and I am fundamentally light as a child of God.” Dan says this with the simplest, deepest, and matter-of-fact conviction. It is an incontrovertible truth. “No one need fear the dark, the shadow, since we are fundamentally light as God’s children, as God’s beloved.” Although, Dan also experiences fear, it is something to accept. Ultimately, there is nothing to fear “only something to be understood”.
A Ministry of Active Listening
Dan sees the core of his ministry as “active listening”. This means being present and supporting the capacity to be in the body, to be in the heart, to find peace with reconciliation issues. When ministering to patients suffering delusions or hallucinations, the pastoral aim is not to deny the person’s delusional content, but to be present and willing to follow the odyssey of the other, to see if it is possible to support the patient to be in a more open-hearted relationship to their experience. This can be a healing complement to psychiatric medication.
For Dan, “Listening heals. The modalities of listening are explorations of hope for transformation.” This takes us beyond control, to a profound sense of our mortality and ultimate poverty. Dan believes that there is a convergence here of Franciscan and Buddhist “nothingness”, the apophatic way by which God is revealed in darkness and “no-thingness”. For Dan this is where his ministry takes him into the Paschal mystery. “I can be in this nothingness. There are no losses in presence. I am in the groundlessness of being.” This is the power of the cross. “Hope descends into these moments when we surrender who we think we are.” There is a calm eye in the center of a cyclone, and it may be found in the midst of suffering. When you have experienced the calm eye within your own suffering, it is much easier to enter the vulnerability of someone else, to accompany, to witness, as a silent mirror, as a soul container.
As a layman, Dan works with priests to make sure that patients have access to the sacraments. He also makes sure that non-Catholic patients can see their ministers. Agnostics, atheists, and New Age devotees can receive Dan’s ministrations . He is profoundly quiet and approachable. Almost shy, with vibrant inquiring eyes, Dan is there to be present, to listen.
A Call to Hospital Ministry
Describing his call to hospital ministry, Dan quotes Frederick Buechner, “Vocation is the place where our deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.” Dan’s ministry leads him “to grow and understand the mystery of God, of myself; what it is to be human.” As a young man he spent quite a bit of time in a hospital visiting a relative and felt that “I knew how to be in a hospital.” In addition to daily work with patients and families, Dan’s vocation leads him to be involved in the ethics of patient care, palliative care, and systems change within the hospital.
In all of this, Dan’s deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need in his vocation as a hospital chaplain.