Start strong, finish well
The title is long, and her days can be longer. Nancy Eder, RN, serves as the diocesan school nurse consultant and diocesan health advocate to the priests, an 11-word title that poses a challenge to squeeze on a business card. Her responsibilities can be difficult to fit into a day, too, but Eder loves her job.
Eder is particularly well suited for the apparent dichotomy of caring for both school children and infirm priests. She is compassionate yet efficient. Energetic yet calm. Methodical yet adaptable. Not to mention knowledgeable and curious.
And in caring for students and aging shepherds, she is a health advocate for those who most need it.
Her work for the Diocese of Fort Worth began 29 years ago, when she volunteered as a nurse at Holy Family Catholic School after enrolling her son, followed by her daughter the next year.
Her knack for organization led her to create forms for medication dispensation, accidents, school physicals, and more, which soon became standard forms for all diocesan schools. By 1995, the Holy Family parishioner began working as a nurse consultant for all 19 schools.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools Jennifer Pelletier appreciates Eder’s work in the Catholic schools. “There’s nobody in the world as kind and good,” she said. “She does things we don’t even know.”
What is known is that Eder pays particular attention to the nine schools that do not have a nurse on staff, ensuring they have the same medical supplies and equipment as those facilities with a nurse.
For example, while visiting one of the schools without a nurse, a student with a history of seizures had an episode. The parent was on campus, and they had to use a desk chair to wheel him out of the building to see his physician. “I told them, ‘You will have a wheelchair next week,’” she recalled. “Every school has a wheelchair now.”
Her expertise is also valued by Catholic schools beyond the diocese. For 25 years, Eder — sometimes with a team, sometimes with a partner, and sometimes alone — has published the 167-page Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops Health Manual for Catholic Schools in Texas that is used in more than 250 Catholic schools across the state.
She has also helped develop safety protocols for the Catholic parishes and schools to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. She has equipped each priest with personal protective equipment and helped make accommodations to allow priests into hospitals to anoint COVID-19 patients.
Superintendent Pelletier believes Eder’s work with infirm priests, which began in 2012, impacts her work in the schools.
“She uses the same compassion, the same focus, and the same respect for the dignity of the human person” whether she’s working with an elderly priest or a student, according to Pelletier.
When a tragedy, such as the sudden death of an administrator, has occurred, Eder assisted Pelletier. “In very difficult situations, she knows how to be the hands and mouth of Christ.” Pelletier observed. “In sickness, tragedy, or fear, she’ll stand right next to it. She never leaves when things get hard.”
Eder’s work as a health advocate for the clergy begins when they do, at seminary. She speaks with seminarians and priests each year about the importance of healthy habits and preventative medical care. She takes blood pressure readings, arranges an annual flu shot, and encourages them to make regular dental and medical appointments.
As the priests age, she provides support as they request, from helping them enroll in Medicare to accompanying them to appointments. She’ll research the best rehab facilities and assist with medication or insurance. In their last days on this side of heaven, she might just sit quietly at their bedside.
Sometimes, her phone rings at 2 a.m. “I will go whenever I’m called. I will do whatever it takes,” the nurse said matter-of-factly.
“They are our shepherds, and in times when their health is failing, they need someone to walk with them on their journey.” Some have outlived close friends and family members, she explained.
“I love what I do. I love serving the clergy. I love being present for them. They have given so much to the people; it’s time for us to take care of them,” she continued.
Her medical knowledge can be useful in some cases, but her empathy is always employed. According to Eder, it’s important to be present for them and thank them for their ministry.
Monsignor E. James Hart, chancellor and moderator of the curia, values Eder and the behind-the-scenes work she does.
He said, “She possesses the no-nonsense approach of a good and competent nurse; which means she doesn’t tell you what you want to hear but what you need to hear. But with this straight-forward approach comes a caring person, possessed of a compassionate heart.
“Her contribution to the local Church flows from this compassionate strength of character. And where I’ve seen this displayed most poignantly is in her untiring care of our retired and often ailing, elderly priests. She is, without exception, an angel of mercy to each of them in their time of need,” he continued.
Eder, in turn, said spending time with clergy in their sunset days is a gift to her. “I have become a better Catholic. I’ve been given many graces from working with the clergy.”
She said, “The clergy taught me [that] we are waiting to go to our eternal home, and that’s where we’re going to be. ‘I’ve waited all my life,’ as one of them put it to me, ‘to go home with the Father.’”