As chief executive officer of Covenant Children's in Lubbock, Texas, Chris Dougherty is a well-liked and energetic man known for his warmth, approachability and his commitment to the care and well-being of young patients and their families.
But there's a part of Dougherty's life – an extremely important part – that many he works with don't know.
Dougherty, a married father of two, is clergy.
"People get very surprised when they find out that I am an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church," Dougherty said.
A deacon at St. Elizabeth Catholic University Parish, Dougherty also participates in services in the chapel with Covenant Children's pastoral staff. All ordained ministers in the Catholic Church are called to serve through word, sacrament and charity.
As a minister of word, Dougherty can proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach in the name of the Catholic Church. As a minister of sacrament, he can baptize people, witness marriages and conduct funeral services. As a minister of charity, he is called to be a leader in identifying the needs of others, eliminate inequities and injustices that cause those needs, and connect those in need with the church's resources.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that a deacon's functions flow from his sacramental identity. A deacon is called to serve and not be served.
"In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does, but WHO a deacon is that is important," the organization says.
Dougherty, who has been the CEO of Covenant Children's and of the Lakeside campus for three years, believes he was meant to work at Covenant and St. Joseph Health. Covenant Children's provides the largest team of pediatric specialists in the region and offers a comprehensive range of services. Dougherty oversees the planning, administration, coordination and evaluation of operations for Covenant Children's and the Lakeside campus.
He's serving God and living his faith in two complementary ways. It's a powerful synergy, he says.
"It's been one of the beautiful things about coming to Covenant and to the St. Joe's system. Having the values that I hold dear to be part of the organization and health system is a dream come true, especially in this day and age in health care and the challenge to uphold Catholic health values," Dougherty said. "I am so honored to be part of a Catholic health system that upholds the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church."
Dougherty was ordained in the Dallas diocese and completed a six-year program.
Lee Turner, vice president of mission integration for Covenant Health, says Dougherty is carrying on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange's tradition of service.
"For much of our history, vowed Catholic women religious have served local health care ministries in leadership roles. In truth, our sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have done everything from administration to nursing to housekeeping. Why? Because it was their sacred calling and as a practical matter, they were often the only one who could do the work," Turner said.
"Today, the laity serves in different circumstances yet with the same conviction. Chris answered a call to serve God and community in two very special ways. First, he is an accomplished hospital administrator and second, he is a deacon serving the parish community. Covenant Health's great fortune is that these two callings are wonderfully complementary of each other."
When Turner met Dougherty, he felt a connection. It was like two kindred spirits had gathered, he said. Covenant Health is enhanced by Dougherty's understanding and appreciation for Catholic social teaching and that greatly informs the health system's efforts on behalf of the communities it serves.
"His participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is of great comfort to me personally and is of inestimable value to Covenant Health," Turner said.