Effingham Daily News
Carol Gapsis has been comforting hospital patients and visitors for more than a decade, and now she’s adding firefighters and fire victims to the list since becoming Effingham Fire Department’s first-ever chaplain, a role Chief Joe Holomy said the department needed.
“For everything we see or get involved, our folks need to be able to talk to somebody,” he said.
A chaplain also is needed in times when people have lost everything.
“They’re crushed emotionally, and our firefighters are not trained to deal with that,” said Holomy.
The voluntary on-call position is shared by other surrounding fire departments.
“If a chaplain is not available, one from another department steps in,” he said.
Holomy credits Gapsis with stepping up to the role when no one else would.
Since taking on the role, she has attended drills and shown up during shifts to get to know the firefighters, all while gaining their trust.
“She’s got a super personality. She’s fit right in in a short span of time,” he said.
Holomy said many of the firefighters already know Gapsis as manager of St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital Pastoral Care department.
Gapsis began working in the department in 2001, managing a grief support group before becoming certified as a bereavement facilitator and eventually manager in 2005.
Gapsis, along with others in the department, attempts to see every new patient who is admitted within 24 hours.
“We meet any spiritual needs patients may have. We’re also here for colleagues and physicians if they need someone to talk to,” she said.
Gapsis draws from her 30 years of experience as a nurse, but her gift to help others goes back further.
“My cousins always kidded me ever since I was very small I was always going to be a nun,” she said.
While attending college, Gapsis considered life in a religious order.
“I saw a priest weekly and really gave it some thought,” she said.
She went as far as to gather a dowry to submit as her commitment to an order. The envelope laid on her desk.
“I prayed about it, but I never turned it in,” she said.
Later, Gapsis found another way to serve others as a counselor for a rape crisis coalition. Helping others, she said, is her nature.
“If someone needs something, I try to help them. I’ve been very blessed in my life,” she said.
While every situation and person are different, Gapsis said the most challenging part of her job is saying the right words.
“I always say a prayer before, ‘Dear Lord, give me strength to help this person and say what they need to hear,’” she said.
Effingham resident Ron Seiler, who has known Gapsis for many years, believes she is well qualified for the position.
“She’s not afraid of what she does. She’s very good for our community,” he said.
Gapsis plans to continue meeting the spiritual needs of others as long as she can.
“I would like to think I can help or make a difference,” she said. “When I stop thinking that, then I’ll stop.”