When St. Catherine Hospital and its Spiritual Care staff hosted the annual Association of Certified Christian Chaplains Conference Nov. 1-3, there were a lot of firsts.

It was the first time the ACCC conference had been held in Garden City, and it had never been held at a Catholic institution. It was the first time a hospital had hosted, and the membership had never ventured outside of a metropolitan area for its yearly gathering.

To St. Catherine Chaplain Doug Williams, who served as the event’s host and organizer, it was fitting that Garden City and St. Catherine were selected. Not only was it a great opportunity to showcase the hospital and community, he said, but it also was a chance to broaden the perspective of the national organization of Christian chaplains and those who attended.

​“Half the hospital beds in the U.S. are represented in the medium-sized category like St. Catherine,” said Williams in a press release, adding that it was an honor to host the organization of which he and other local Spiritual Care staff are members.

According to its website, ACCC is a chaplaincy community that supports board certified chaplains and strives to be leaders in research, education and practice of chaplaincy care. Its members work in a variety of fields, including healthcare, business, the military, corrections, industry and education.

The conference itself provides educational, networking and recognition opportunities for members. Whether they were attending for the first time or were conference veterans, Williams said, the event made quite an impression.

“I got comments like, ‘Are they all like this? This was great.’” Williams said in the release. “Two people said this, ‘I’ve never been to a conference as good as this one.’ The leadership from within, who are regular attendees, said this was the best conference that they have ever had.”

Williams and St. Catherine CEO Scott Taylor took turns welcoming attendees to start off the event on November 1. Bishop John B. Brungardt, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, then kicked off three days of inspiring speakers.

While the event included presentations by ACCC leaders, it also included a long list of local speakers, including: St. Catherine Hospice Chaplain Dr. Gerry Dupuis; Journey to the Cross Cowboy Church founder Randy Fisher; Tyson Fresh Meats’ Holcomb plant chaplains Jonathan Galia and Guillermo Reyes; and Father Bob Schremmer, Vicar General and Moderator of Curia in the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City. Patrick Gaughan, Senior Vice President, Chief Values Integration Officer for Centura Health, also spoke on the opening day.

Occasionally in between speakers, fellow St. Catherine chaplains Joseph “Michael” Gonzalez and Dallas Crist joined Mary Fabin and the trio offered musical entertainment.

“I really think it was just spirit-filled, spirit-led. There was just this peace about it all,” Gonzalez said in the release.

There also was something real about it all. Those attending the event were able to get acquainted with hospital associates, and duty sometimes called on the Spiritual Care crew.

“The other thing that we got a ton of response on was we had our associates do 60-second intros where they gave their name, how long they’ve been here, what they do here, their mission statement and then how they found the conference theme — either hope or gratitude, or both — within their work,” Williams said in the release. “Over and over again, people said that they really liked that. They got to see real people who were talking about their lives.”

Gonzalez said he enjoyed the networking and fellowship, and the professional development opportunities weren’t bad either as he and fellow hospital chaplain Barbara Dupuis became board certified during the event, with Gonzalez becoming a certified chaplain and Dupuis a certified associate chaplain.

“For me, this is a step up. You’re continuing your education, you’re moving into your calling,” Gonzalez said in the release. “You’re moving into His plan and purpose for your life.”

The conference was an opportunity to showcase the hospital and its associates, and St. Catherine made the most of it.

“I’m hoping that they got to see who we are and what we are out here, at a heart-felt level,” Gonzalez said in the release. “It was a big opportunity to put us on the map.”