Geriatric Spiritual Care Certificate Program

For personal education or for professionals serving in long-term care, the Geriatric Spiritual Care Certificate Program is for those seeking to enhance their role in pastoral care.

Dementia Care Challenges

Caring for the Spiritual Needs of Elders

It’s a privilege to be called to the spiritual care of the elderly - to provide care for their bodies, their spirits and their souls. Geriatric Spiritual Care can help residents come to terms with what has happened and what is happening, and how to cope and heal from emotional distress which is often hard for them to express.

Who is this Program for?

  • Any long-term care professional looking to better understand the spiritual health of the elderly or looking to further and/or refresh their skills
  • Anyone appointed to assist in a pastoral care department
  • Anyone curious about seeking a career as a pastoral care or spiritual care giver – this program can be a bridge to those who may want to pursue the chaplaincy ministry program can be a bridge to Chaplaincy
  • Anyone looking to enhance his or her ministry skills for visiting elder members in his or her communities, hospitals, long-term care facilities, etc. 
Benefits Dementia Care Training

Geriatric Spiritual Care Certificate Program Overview

The Geriatric Spiritual Care (GSC) Certificate Program will prepare participants to enter this field of elder care and serve the specific spiritual needs of elders. The program is taught with a team approach by a diverse and expert group of faculty.

The GSC program consists of 65 classroom hours distributed over 4 weekends and a week of clinical hands-on experience under expert guidance.

Click a topic title for a module description.

Module 1: Dynamics of Spiritual Care

Participants will explore the journey they have taken through a personal life review to better understand the spiritual journey of our elders. This experience will help participants to better understand the spiritual journey of our elders. We need to keep in mind that their spirituality has grown out of their own individual and unique life experiences. Spiritual activities will be offered that are appropriate for the elderly in any setting. The most basic activity is that of prayer and its relationship to the needs and expectations of the elderly. Ritual will also be discussed, with emphasis placed on what is liturgically appropriate. The Magisterium and the Sacramental Life of the Christian will be explored as they relate to the role and activities of the spiritual caregiver.

  • To develop the technique of life review as a source for rendering geriatric spiritual care.
  • To recognize the individuality of spirituality.
  • To acquire an understanding of prayer, ritual, and sacraments in the life of the elderly
  • Life Review and Assessment
  • Spirituality
  • Prayer, Ritual, and Sacrament

Module 2: Theology of Suffering

While almost all individuals experience some form of suffering during their lives, it is especially true for the elderly. While suffering is material in nature it also has a spiritual dimension with which the geriatric spiritual caregiver needs to become familiar. Participants will research this perspective of suffering in both the Old and New Testaments. Here the emphasis will be on the spiritual value of the Paschal Mystery as personified by Christ and theological reflections will be the tool. The impact of loss and separation will be explored, recognizing that grief is a natural process throughout our life cycle. The participant’s ability to deal with death precedes their ability to help individuals deal with loss and bereavement. The presenter will explore skills that can be utilized in dealing with death and dying.

  • To identify a theology of suffering through the use of Old and New Testament verses.
  • To emphasize the spiritual value of the Paschal Mystery.
  • To come to terms with the reality of death and the dying process.
  • To comprehend the dynamics of grief and appropriate responses.
  • Theological Reflection/Care Partnering
  • Dynamics of Grief, Loss and Separation
  • Ministry to the Dying

Module 3: Active Listening

Active listening relates to the role of those engaged in Geriatric Spiritual Care. This module involves three interrelated components; the dynamics of active listening, the use of and response to silence, and the distinction between symptom and problem.

The presentation will attempt to help the participants explore the technique and significance of active listening. Active listening also involves the ability to recognize different types of behavior in people with dementia.

Observation, discussion, and response mechanisms will be addressed. The distinction between symptom and problem will be made. This distinction in spiritual care is essential, since the symptom may be an indication of a existing problem. Signs and symbols will be discussed as a communication tool to elicit response to their faith tradition. Efforts in communication skills with family and staff will be explored, using role playing to demonstrate points. The need for referrals and for a team approach will be explored.

  • To better understand the technique and significance of active listening when interacting with the elderly.
  • To become more comfortable in dealing with silence.
  • To recognize behavior as manifested by people with dementia.
  • To better understand the distinction between symptom and problem.
  • To understand the dynamics with family and staff.
  • Listening Skills
  • Communication to Residents with Dementia
  • Understanding Dynamics with Family and Staff 

Module 4: Palliative Care

In this session participants will be introduced to the practice of palliative care. This approach seeks to provide relief from the five domains of pain that all persons experience when faced with a debilitating diagnosis: physical, spiritual, emotional, psychiatric and familial. It allows each resident to receive the appropriate treatment that brings him/her comfort and the best possible care and can be combined with curative care or with less aggressive care. Palliative care is not the same as hospice care or end-of-life care which is reserved for those who are clearly dying. Participants will discuss signs that death is near and how to give care during the dying process. The emphasis will be on the origins and similarities in major religions as they relate to palliative care in all faith traditions.

  • Discuss palliative care.
  • Address difficult conversations during the dying process.
  • Recognize symptoms and understand basic medical terminology during the dying process.
  • To broaden an understanding of the major religions of the world and their influences in creating values within society.
  • Palliative Care
  • Recognizing Signs When Death is Near
  • Difficult Conversations
  • Cultural and Religious Diversity

Module 5: Moral Ethics

We live in a very complex society and confusion tends to rise over what constitutes appropriate ethical behavior. This module contains three components; practical ethics, comparative religion, and case studies as a source for decision making. 

In covering practical ethics, the question “Why is there confusion over ethics?” will be addressed. The presenter will explore the sources of values, ethics, religious ethics, law, and etiquette. The distinction between ethics and moral theology will be addressed through a basic presentation of major religions. Case studies on ethical issues will be reviewed for use in class. The ethical theories and principles will be used as a support system in providing quality of life. The importance of confidentiality will be stressed. The practices and procedures for ministry will be detailed.

  • To enhance the participants’ understanding of the theories and principles of ethics as a source for a decision-making process.
  • To establish a methodology for discovering right and wrong.
  • To utilize case studies as a source of under-standing the decision-making process.
  • Practical Ethics/Moral Theology
  • Review of Case Studies/Practical Ministerial Details
  • Ethical Religious Directives

Community Networking

Community Networking will identify the importance of forming a Spiritual Care Network. It will also discuss different parish programs that are designed specifically for the elderly. We will also discuss other current aging issues facing spiritual care workers and the elders they serve. 

  • To identify components of a Spiritual Care Network.
  • To understand parish ministry to the elderly.
  • Address current issues in spiritual care.
  • Parish Ministry to the Elderly
  • Developing a Spiritual Care Network
  • Developing a Pastoral Care Department
  • Recruiting Volunteers

Clinical Experience

After completing the 5 modules, participants will advance to the clinical component of the program. Each student must attend 55 hours of clinical time at the assigned long-term care facility served by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The site coordinator will develop the schedule for each student.

  • Participants will have the opportunity to interact and apply learned skills with residents with memory impairment and those receiving palliative or end-of-life care.
  • Participants will interact with staff from all departments.
  • Participants have an opportunity to participate in group discussion to reflect on experiences from the day.

Program Logistics

Dates and Location

CLASSROOM (65 hours) are held one weekend per month (Friday to Sunday) in Germantown, NY.
Weekend 1: January TBA, 2022
Weekend 2: February TBA, 2022
Weekend 3: March TBA, 2022
Weekend 4: April TBA, 2022

CLINICAL (55 hrs) will be held for one week in May at a long-term care facility served by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.

Housing and Meals

Accommodations are included with tuition. For the weekend class modules students will be staying on grounds at St. Teresa's Motherhouse. For the clinical period, students will be housed on location, in accommodations at a long- term care facility.

All meals are included with tuition. Students join the Sisters for meals in the refectory. We will accommodate special dietary needs. Please contact us with any questions or concerns.

Tuition and Scholarships

Tuition includes 65 hours of class time, 55 hours of clinical time, materials, meals, and accommodations. Contact Us for cost of the program.

There are scholarships available, please contact us for more information.

To attend, all prospective students must complete and submit an application. 2022 Applications coming soon.


I am deeply grateful to the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM) of Marymount Convent, Tarrytown NY who sent me to take the Geriatric Spiritual Care course this year. I am the Pastoral Care Coordinator here at this Convent (a new position), and found the course to be an excellent, intensive delve into the many aspects of pastoral care with the aged and infirm sisters in my care. Particularly helpful were the modules on listening and being a caring presence, a representative of Christ for people in their times of need and the many losses an aged and infirm person experiences. The faculty were excellent, the other students were great companions on this important journey.”

Martha Louise Harkness

My time at the Avila Institute really touched my heart … it went beyond my expectations. I not only learned about the aging process, but also about death and dying, where God is in all of this and just maybe, where I might fit into it all. My prayer life has deepened and I am seeking new, creative ways to use what I learned. It is an amazing program.”

Cynthia Tokos

Deeply compassionate and sensitive to the individual, the Geriatric Spiritual Care Program has given me an appreciation of journeying with the elderly. Sister Peter Lillian and the faculty with their rich experiential dimension in addition to their expertise provided insightful information to guide meaningful interaction with elderly men and women. The course was well paced, adapted to participants who had full-time work, and also provided readings and resources to use for further reflection and instruction. The clinical experience was beneficial to help apply things we learned but also to see the Sisters and staff members model in the ministry what we had learned in the classroom.”

Sister Nancy Marie Jamroz

Related Stories

More information about upcoming and past Geriatric Spiritual Care programs.

Get on the 2022 Waiting List

We will not be offering the Geriatric Spiritual Care Program in 2021.

We will be offering it in 2022, to learn more and to get on the 2022 waiting list, please contact us.

Call us at 518-537-5000 or email us at or use the Contact Form below.