JOLIET – Seven years ago, when Sister Mary Frances Seeley began The Upper Room, her intention was for this 24/7 faith-based hotline to serve Catholic priests and brothers.
Today, The Upper Room is busier than ever, thanks to people around the globe finding the hotline’s 800 number on the Internet, Seeley said. Although the hotline receives calls from Catholic clergy, most are from laypeople seeking moral guidance.
The questions and dilemmas are wide and varied, said Seeley, chief operating officer of The Upper Room. Is it a sin if I’m homosexual? I’m married and want to have transgender surgery. Do I tell my fiance/fiancee that I cheated on him/her? My boyfriend/girlfriend is contemplating suicide; what do I do?
“Some people call just to have us pray with them,” Seeley said.
There are times when it’s apparent a caller is mentally ill, such as when he or she is hearing voices – especially when those voices are telling the person to hurt themselves, Seeley said.
Other callers have dabbled in the occult – or have family members involved with it – and need help moving away from it.
Seeley has worked with hotlines for nearly 45 years, also founding Crisis Line of Will County and Grundy Counties in 1976, which still exists. She said the frequency of calls concerning the occult have increased over time. She blames the media.
“Look at your TV programs,” Seeley said. “How many of them deal with vampires and ghosts?”
Just 19 volunteers – and Seeley – work the hotline. More volunteers are needed, Seeley said. Most open time slots are filled by Seeley herself. Training sessions are eight weeks long, she added.
Candidates must be practicing Catholics. Seeley prefers people that are “seasoned,” although she might allow select college interns to volunteer if they have a psychology of theology background.
Although Seeley requires volunteers to have a solid understanding of the Catholic faith, that does not mean callers receive a Catholic-based lecture when they call, Seeley said. They hear just the opposite.
In fact, one of the first questions a volunteer might ask is, “What faith were you raised in?” If appropriate, the volunteer may suggest the caller reach out to a priest or minister of his or her denomination.
In all cases, a caller will never be told what to do.
“They need to think it out,” Seeley said. “We help draw it out, help them examine what is bothering them and help them see which [choice] is most helpful with fewer negative consequences.”
In addition to receiving training in paraprofessional counseling, human sexuality, suicide prevention, grief counseling and communication skills, volunteers must have sensitive listening ears, Seeley said, and have an open, nonjudgmental attitude.
“Sometimes, we save a life,” Seeley said, “and sometimes, we just send them down a different path to live happily ever after. Sometimes we help bring them back to their practices of religion or help them make healthy changes in their lifestyle.”
The number of calls The Upper Room receives varies each day and night, Seeley said, but the average is five to 12 during the day and one to 11 between midnight and 6 a.m.
Occasionally, the hotline will receive repeat calls from the same people wanting to discuss the same problems, Seeley said. Volunteers still will speak to them but limit the time and amount of phone calls they will take from them, gently steering repeat callers to other resources, she added.
“It’s not good for the person to rehash everything,” Seeley said.
The hotline phone number is 888-808-8724. The center’s website is www.theupperroomcrisishotline.org.
For information on becoming a volunteer, call Seeley at 815-341-9124.