On August 1, after a long career as a chaplain for USC’s health care system, including as spiritual director for Keck Medical Center of USC, Chaplain Phil Manly has retired. During his long career, Chaplain Manly spent 40 years as chaplain for Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center as well.

Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Chaplain Manly grew up within a few miles of Los Angeles County Hospital where his father also served as a chaplain. After completing his education and certification from the Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association (HCMA), Chaplain Manly spent the next five decades as a key source of spiritual guidance within the Los Angeles County health care landscape, including as the HCMA’s Los Angeles director from 1987 to 2012.

Chaplain Manly recently spoke more in-depth about his spiritual vocation, and his experiences working in a health care environment.

Your father was one of the very first chaplains to serve at the Los Angeles County Hospital in the 1950s, where you helped him put on services for its patients. What was that experience like?

At the age of 11, I had two heroes: my earthly father and my heavenly father. It was at the hospital, playing my trumpet and singing with my sisters for patients over the in-hospital bed-to-bed radio and listening to my dad’s encouraging messages, that I became acutely aware of the reality of suffering. Both of these fathers provided for and sustained the necessary physical, psychological and spiritual development that eventually directed me into my life’s work. For that, I could not be more blessed and grateful.

At what point did you know you wanted to pursue the chaplaincy?

After returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam, attending college, and marrying my sweetheart, I worked as a commissioned salesperson. This position allowed me to volunteer and visit with patients at LA County General Hospital. It was during this time that I applied to my current health care agency, completed all the chaplaincy training, and ended up replacing the retiring chaplain under whom I had been volunteering. Then, for the next 40 years, I literally followed in my father’s footsteps; moving up and down the same elevators and hallways of the hospital.

What are the primary duties of a chaplain in a health care environment?

Crisis intervention and responding to all emergency requests is number one as far as being a team member and chaplain; this applies to patients, their families, and also hospital staff. In times of illness and suffering, most of us have bigger thoughts about the meaning of life. We say to ourselves, just a few days ago I was feeling happy and healthy. Now, I am in pain, with little assurance of what the future may hold. A chaplain can help individuals sift through the fragments of recent events in order to understand their situation and find hope for tomorrow; irrespective of their particular religious or non-religious past or present.

That said, a chaplain seeks to assess each individual’s spiritual temperature, and make certain to connect the family and patient with their preferred method of spiritual guidance. Facilitating harmony between all the variable disciplines, outlooks and individuals is both challenging and fulfilling.

What are some of the duties or tasks of a chaplain that people may be unaware of?

The fact that chaplains often follow up with patients and their families post-hospitalization when indicated and/or requested. Also, chaplains are often asked to help plan and conduct funeral and memorial services; even when it is out of town or out of state. Additionally, chaplains will officiate at both staff and patient weddings. What has given me great joy, is providing on and off campus training for other chaplains, nursing students, church pastors and lay persons about proper spiritual care in a health care environment.

You have served USC’s health system for nearly 49 years. What have been some of your most memorable and gratifying experiences?

Well, my answer could fill a book. But, undoubtedly the holy ground on which I often stand alongside a dying patient and their family as they say their goodbyes, with God’s peace in attendance, is an incomparable experience. Conversely, both of the opening days for Keck Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Hospital, standing alongside our newly-assembled staff, gets top billing as one of my great experiences. Additionally, every Festival of Life and annual Patient Remembrance service, although natural opposites, have been extremely poignant. Lastly, and for the sake of brevity, I would say sharing the joy and anticipation of a patient receiving a new heart after months of waiting.

Although a medical enterprise is known for using its technology to heal those in need, in what ways do you feel spiritual guidance is just as important to maintaining a positive and hopeful experience for patients?

Since we humans are more than just a physical body, it stands to reason that the entirety of each individual should be addressed for the best outcome. An individual’s purpose moving forward is part and parcel of true health. In fact, there are a significant amount of well-respected studies that show that a patient’s hospital stay has been shortened when spiritual care is provided.

Now that you are moving into retirement, how are you planning to spend your time?

Well, retirement is not on my mind as much as transitioning in order to spend quality time with my beloved bride of fifty-three years, while also continuing to train chaplains through my health care agency. I can say that no hospital chaplain could have ever asked for a more supportive team than with whom I have had the privilege of serving the serious needs of our patients, their families, and staff members. It has been an honor to work alongside these talented individuals to bring health and healing to every patient. Long ago, I chose USC’s health system as my second and very dear family. Thank you for returning the love and support. My prayers and thoughts will always remain with you.

— Matthew Vasiliauskas