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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Nursing for others: A Jesuit priest at the Connell School

by william bole

Richard Ross, S.J., guides graduate students through an ethical reasoning case study. Photograph: Gary Wayne Gilbert

As an instructor at Connell, Ross has team-taught a graduate-level class in nursing ethics (with Pamela Grace), a course in professional nursing (with Stacy Garrity), and a class in physical assessment, the first clinical course nursing students take (with Robin Wood). Students in that class learn how to perform a head-to-toe physical exam and conduct a health interview asking routine questions about diet, breathing, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. At the end of the semester, each student administers a 45-minute physical exam to another. According to Wood, they are typically nervous and anxious.

“He brought a great calmness to the situation and made them relax,” she said, noting the encouragement Ross gave to students at each stage of the exam. Wood said one student dropped a note in her mailbox afterward saying, “He was very calming when I started to freak out.”

That Ross would be involved at all in nursing is a reflection of not just his interests but also the Jesuit order. “Jesuits work in the world,” he said. Members of the order can be found in nearly every profession, not just pastoral ministry. “The beauty of it is that, in a lot of ways, the Jesuits are the Church’s bridge to parts of the world where maybe other priests and religious can’t venture,” Ross said.

Ross helped build a bridge to the maternity unit of Georgetown University Hospital, where he worked as a clinical instructor who taught Mother and Child Nursing from 2005 to 2007, during part of his Jesuit formation (typically a 10-year process that involves master’s-level academic study in philosophy, theology, and ministry; pastoral work; service with a Jesuit “apostolate” or ministry such as a high school; living in a Jesuit community; and doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius).

Ross recalled that he made it clear to new mothers that the time after delivery was “their own time.” They should set the pace of their care and have quiet moments alone to reflect if they wanted to, he said. He did not wear a clerical collar in the maternity unit; only those who knew the significance of the “S.J.” after the name embroidered on his lab coat were aware of his vocation. Ross said part of his purpose was to help students understand “the sacredness of the moment” when a woman has given birth, and to help birth mothers live in that moment on their terms.

At Georgetown’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, Ross promoted Jesuit identity in other ways. “He helped people think about the community in which they exist, from a Jesuit perspective,” said former Georgetown professor and current Connell Associate Professor Angela Frederick Amar, whose own years at Georgetown overlapped with Ross’s. “With Richard, it’s never ‘I’ll tell you what to do.’ It’s always leading by example and, ‘How do we build community?’”

Asked about his future, Ross seemed pleased to say he really doesn’t know what it will involve. As a Jesuit, he doesn’t decide what he’s going to do or where he’ll be assigned. That is up to the Jesuit provincial. Nevertheless, says Ross, “I do believe my path is going to be a nursing path—probably in ways I cannot imagine.”

God is in the circumstances. ✹

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