Eastern Rite priest is new director of spiritual care for Ascension Saint Thomas

As a young priest, Father Calin Tamiian wasn’t looking for a ministry as a hospital chaplain. “I was running in the opposite direction from suffering,” he said.

But his life turned when “a brother priest suffering without much hope was able to receive the proper treatment.” While visiting his friend at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Father Tamiian met some hospital chaplains and watched them at work. “The rest is history,” he said.

That led to a 20-year career in hospital ministry, and this month he began his new job as the Ascension Saint Thomas System Director for Spiritual Care and Clinical Pastoral Education.

Father Tamiian will oversee the pastoral care for the entire Ascension Saint Thomas Health System in Middle Tennessee. “It is a position of support and strategy development,” Father Tamiian said.

Another aspect of the job is integrating the pastoral care education of residents and interns pursuing a ministry as a hospital chaplain, he said.

Being a hospital chaplain is “an amazing opportunity to care for people in some of the most difficult and challenging times,” Father Tamiian said. “The ministry itself is an opportunity to lead the mission of the Church and personally to connect with that healing ministry of Jesus.”

The healing ministry of Jesus has always been important for the Church, Father Tamiian said. He noted that Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne decreed that every cathedral and monastery have a hospital attached to it, and even today 25 percent of all health care services in the world are provided by Catholic institutions.

“The Church has been intentional in that type of ministry to bring hope and healing to the world,” Father Tamiian said.

Today’s Catholic hospitals and health care facilities continue the work of the priests and religious sisters who founded them, Father Tamiian said.

“For us here at Saint Thomas we continue that in the tradition of the Daughters of Charity,” who founded Saint Thomas Hospital in 1898, he said. 

The role of hospital chaplains is constantly developing as they work side-by-side with other health care professionals to address the emotional and spiritual needs of patients, families, and staff, Father Tamiian said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected large numbers of people and can move quickly from one person to the next, has affected the work of hospital chaplains, Father Tamiian said. Despite the difficulties, he said, “being there for all of them who are affected is important.”

“In the beginning, it was very difficult when we didn’t have enough” personal protective equipment, said Father Tamiian, who was working at a hospital system in Southern California before coming to Saint Thomas.

He has been impressed that at Saint Thomas, with the support of the medical staff, the chaplains have been able to see patients. “They were very much welcome and there side-by-side with the doctors offering support for the patients,” Father Tamiian said.

The chaplains also have been able to support the doctors, nurses and other staff who worry about brining the virus home with them and infecting their families, he added. 

The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the need for chaplains to support patients’ families, who are often limited in visiting relatives in the hospital, Father Tamiian said. “We all hear the stories that it is very difficult for the families to be at home away from their loved ones.”

In some cases, hospital chaplains have ministered to families who have had more than one relative die from the virus, sometimes only weeks apart, Father Tamiian said.

“That’s the essence of a good chaplain, to not be overwhelmed by the power of death and suffering and keep proclaiming the word in the face of all that.”

Hospital ministry growing in 

Romanian Church

Father Tamiian is a native of Romania and a priest of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Rite Churches in full union with the Roman Catholic Church.

Following World War II, the Communist governments of Romania persecuted the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, confiscating its property, arresting its bishops and many of its priests, and demanding that they convert to the Romanian Orthodox Church.

All the bishops refused, Father Tamiian said. “None of them gave in.”

The Romanian Greek Catholic Church was forced underground and re-emerged publicly after the Communist government was overthrown in the Romanian Revolution in 1989.

“The Church survived because of faithfulness and the role we have of keeping the East and West in dialogue and the belief that we can once again be one Church,” Father Tamiian said.

Father Tamiian started seminary studies in Romania, but then moved to Austria, where in learned English through a program of Franciscan University of Dallas, and France.

He eventually moved to the University of Steubenville, Ohio, where he earned a master’s degree in sacred theology. 

He was ordained in 2002 as a priest for the Romanian Greek Catholic Eparchy of St. George, which is based in Canton, Ohio, and includes all of the United States and Canada. It is the only Romanian Greek Catholic eparchy outside of Romania.

The Romanian Greek Catholic Church, like other Eastern Rite churches, allows priests to marry. Father Tamiian and his wife, Sarah, have four children between the ages of 11 and 21.

Father Tamiian completed four units of clinical pastoral education at the Cleveland Clinic and has served as a Catholic chaplain at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

Before arriving in Nashville, Father Tamiian was the manager of the Spiritual Care Department at Dignity Health St. John’s Hospitals in Ventura County, California, another Catholic health system.

He is currently pursuing a doctorate in pastoral theology from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.

As the Romanian Greek Catholic Church recovers from its past persecution, more of its priests are exploring the ministry of being hospital chaplains, Father Tamiian said. He and other hospital chaplains are working to support and help that growing ministry in Romania and other Eastern European countries.

“I’m happy to know I’m not the only Romanian Catholic priest interested in being a hospital chaplain,” he said.