Each evening when she gathers with her fellow religious in their Altadena convent near Sacred Heart Church, Franciscan Sister of the Sacred Heart Lovina Pammit offers prayers for the grieving families she encounters at the archdiocese’s San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills. As an archdiocesan religious services coordinator, she helps families plan funeral services that will take place in the mortuary building at the cemetery. As recently-appointed coordinator for the archdiocese’s bereavement ministry training program, she helps plan courses for parishioners interested in helping others deal with their grief after the loss of loved ones.“I consider it a healing ministry,” explained Sister Pammit, 45, of her work. “This is not just a job, it’s really a ministry. Burial of the dead is a service, part of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which is a work of the church.”A native of the Philippines who moved to Los Angeles at age 17, she gave up her accounting clerk job a dozen years later to became a Redemptorist lay missionary, running bilingual (English/Spanish) youth and young adult programs in western U.S. parishes. Yearning for the kind of community she found among the Redemptorist confreres (brothers), in 1996 she joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart based in Frankfort, Illinois. She first ministered as a Catholic school Spanish teacher and then spent several years in the Midwest as her community’s vocation director.“At the time, it was a good match for me to be a vocation director because I just had the energy [to do] my traveling,” said Sister Pammit. On her vacations, she would visit her sister and brother in Southern California and kept feeling a nudge to return to the area where her faith had been nurtured in San Fernando Valley Catholic church choirs. In early 2012, with permission from her order’s general leader, she moved back to the area and was hired by the archdiocese a year ago for the religious services coordinator (RSC) position.“A lot of what an RSC does is liturgy planning and listening,” said Sister Pammit, who added that the RSC guides families in choosing funeral service Scripture readings/music and makes sure liturgies are done in accordance with archdiocesan protocol. “I’m not a grief counselor. I think that’s one of the misconceptions.” It helps to be flexible, she notes, as many families don’t know the procedures for Catholic funerals and mistakenly think that the funeral service is the place for eulogies. In Catholic funerals, notes Sister, the vigil (rosary) held the night before the funeral is the proper time for remembrances and eulogies. “You just have to educate the family that there are certain things you have to follow [like not having secular songs during liturgy],” said Sister Pammit. At the same time, when meeting families to plan the funeral service, she is conscious of their need to be listened to and having their needs met at a time of vulnerability and grief. She finds that offering her prayers for them and their deceased loved one adds a sense of spiritual calm to the funeral preparations.“Having that special prayer, that’s something that is different with a Catholic cemetery,” explained Sister Pammit. “You are allowed to say ‘Jesus’ and ‘God’ and to pray with them and really cater to that sense of spirituality, to be assured that in the afterlife, after death, their loved ones are taken care of by God, and they are going to be with God.”Sister Pammit helps coordinate an average of ten funeral services a week, meeting with at least two families daily during the cemetery’s busy seasons of fall and winter. This past January, she coordinated over 100 funeral services. As coordinator for the archdiocese’s bereavement ministry training program, she helps prepare eight-week courses (once a week) held at a host parish in the evenings or on Saturdays for parishioners interested in bereavement ministry. Guest speakers address a variety of topics, such as talking with others about spirituality, suicide, and funeral/committal rites.“It equips people for bereavement ministry,” said Sister Pammit, who will make a weekly drive to Mary Star of the Sea Church in San Pedro when the next training starts on Jan. 27, 2014. Currently, a Spanish language bereavement ministry training program is taking place at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Los Nietos.“Having had the vocation ministry, where I traveled and had to be creative with my time, I have to be creative with my time now,” she explained.While making preparations last week at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery for the Nov. 2 All Souls Day Mass — celebrated annually at all archdiocesan cemeteries — she noted, “One thing that’s important for people to realize is that there are 11 Catholic cemeteries in the archdiocese, and the [funeral] service they would get is specifically for parishioners.”For information on the archdiocese’s bereavement ministry training or to register for the next program in January at Mary Star of the Sea parish in San Pedro, call Maria Palomino, (213) 637-7810; or Sister Lovina Pammit, OSF, (818) 838-3207.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1108/pammit/{/gallery}