Ministering beyond Church walls

St. Joseph Catholic Church parishioner and UCF Police Officer Maya Tolentino receives a blessing after graduating as a chaplain for the Critical Incident Stress Management team, (COURTESY)

ORLANDO | University of Central Florida Police (UCFPD) Officer Maya Tolentino was “doing God’s work, helping people,” she said. But working in the community “invoked something in (her) to do more.”

“My idea to become a chaplain actually came to me a few years ago, but I didn’t know where or how to begin,” Tolentino said, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Orlando. In March of this year, the UCFPD created a CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) Team. Although not required, they felt it was necessary to have a chaplain on the team. “I volunteered and they were happy to oblige, as much as I was happy to answer the call.”

St. Joseph Catholic Church parishioner and UCF Police Officer Maya Tolentino receives a blessing after graduating as a chaplain for the Critical Incident Stress Management team, (COURTESY)

She explained, “The CISM team is prepared to assist the community on mass casualty incidents similar to something such as Pulse Nightclub. We help manage the residual effects of experiencing a traumatic event. We assist with smaller scale incidents as well and offer peer-to-peer counseling for officers and staff within the department.” The team responds and says, “We’re here. We’re first responders and understand what you’re going through,” noted Tolentino.

According to UCFPD Patrol Commander James Mangan, “The goal is to reduce PTSD and other issues frequently experienced.”

When Tolentino volunteered for the 24/7 job, Mangan was not surprised. Mangan added, “I thought she was the perfect person for this role. She is a very calming force within the agency. If you talk with her more than five minutes, you can see that. She is trustworthy and has a lot of credibility.”

Training was required and because it occurred during the COVID lockdown, she had extra time to complete the online courses as well as mentor training. CISM and Clermont Police Department Chaplain Michael Saxe served as a mentor. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Saxe of her appointment. “Maya has had some very interesting challenges in her life. The combination of the Catholic faith and going into the chaplaincy is amazing.” He noted, “She’s going to really help a lot of people from first responders to students.”

Saxe said, “The fact that Maya can tie it all together is amazing. She is such a bright light. Everybody she speaks to leaves the conversation with a positive feeling and a smile… feeling touched by a part of the Scripture and God.”

Including ethics and morals of a chaplain, the training pointed out how a chaplain’s personal life should reflect those. “It wasn’t hard for me because I was already living those out,” she said. Director of Parish Life at St. Joseph’s, Dennis Johnson affirmed that. “She is a regular part of our adult formation activities which is a wonderful testament to all of us. As Catholics, we want to grow in faith throughout our lives and we hope that as disciples of the Lord we will impact all aspects of life and society. Maya gives tribute to this understanding and approach.” Her daughters attend faith formation and together the family serves in parish volunteer opportunities whenever possible.

Acknowledging, “We may wear bullet proof vests, but we don’t have bullet proof souls,” she notes the importance of helping one another. When she thinks of the chaplaincy, she said John 10:11-18 comes to mind. In the vein of Pope Francis, it is important to smell like the sheep and be willing to lay down your life for them. She said, “I believe there is nothing more powerful to leave behind in this world than giving of yourself.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, October 26, 2020