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Westchester Medical Center Chaplain Heals Spirits

Although she spends her days tending to patients at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, Ann Gentile is not a doctor.

She hasn’t had a minute of medical training, either. But her work as a hospital chaplain and member of the clergy heals spirits — and that may be just as important as medical treatment. “I work as friend or companion even for the briefest moments — I never know who I’m going to meet,” Gentile said.

Her duties may include sitting with the family of someone who has suffered a car accident, providing a warm hand to someone who has just received a life-threatening diagnosis or providing words of comfort to an AIDS patient. But regardless of the situation, her mission is the same: to not only listen with her ears but also with her heart.

With the help of the Guideposts for Kids Foundation, the New Rochelle resident hands out the “comfort kits” she designed for little ones. Inside is a stress ball, star-shaped pillow and a “special care journal” to share both happy and sad thoughts.

Her “treasure trees,” for which families can send colorfully written messages to their suffering loved ones, also hang in the hallways of the Intensive Care Unit and other departments around the hospital. “My goal is to have the power of softness go out — we all have it to give to others,” she said.

Before she became a chaplain, Gentile worked as a teacher at New Rochelle’s Barnard Early Childhood Center and Pelham’s Prospect Hill Elementary School. But when her brother fell ill, she decided to train at the Hospice of Westchester, where she became certified in spiritual counseling. She now feels her entry to the chaplaincy was her “calling” from God.

“[Chaplaincy] touched me somehow, and I didn’t take lots of time to think about leaving what I was doing [as a teacher] — and I’m very glad I did it,” she said.

When she isn’t at the hospital, Gentile lends her heart to the parishioners of Scarsdale’s Church of Immaculate Heart of Mary as a bereavement minister.

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