The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


September 23, 2013

Person of the Week | A retired nurse who's trying to change health care through faith and healthy living

— Norma Small is helping to reinvigorate a ministry through which nurses and others promote good health.

The retired registered nurse with the Army Nurse Corps was one of the founders and leaders of the Pennsylvania Laurel Mountains Health Ministry Association, which was formed 20 years ago to serve the Johnstown region.

Small remains a leader in the association, which is holding a conference Oct. 11 at St. Francis University, Loretto, to reignite a passion for the ministry.

The conference is titled Changes in the Health Care System and the Role of Faith Communities.

It will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the DiSepio Institute for Rural Health and Wellness.

Small, who has a master’s degree in nursing, will be among the speakers.

In every faith, part of the belief is that you should keep yourself healthy through exercise and diet and by caring for and encouraging others to be healthy, the Johnstown woman said.

“The conference will be a way to promote health ministries in congregations and to provide a support network for those interested in having a health ministry,” she said. “It has been well received by all faiths in the Johnstown region.”

Small said she is pleased that St. Francis is working to promote the concept of a health ministry.

“It’s a university setting and that’s where it should be because health care professionals, clergy and others need continuing education to be able to provide the ever-changing health care in the community through the ministry,” she said.

With the changes in health care delivery through the federal Affordable Health Care Act, it’s even more important that the faith community be involved in promoting a healthy body, mind and spirit, said Small, who started teaching nursing at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., after retiring from the Army Nurse Corps in 1978.

Small became involved in the health ministry concept in the late 1970s, when her pastor at the Sixth Presbyterian Church in Washington, the Rev. Dr. Abigail Evans, talked to her about starting health ministries.

Small and Evans, who will be the keynote speaker at the Oct. 11 conference, learned that a pastor in Chicago had the same idea and went to one of his conferences.

The concept started to spread nationally, she said.

Small said that when she retired from teaching and returned to her native Johnstown in 1994, the former Mercy Hospital and a Methodist pastor asked her to help start a health ministry in Johnstown.

“It took off,” she said about the ministry.

Over the past two years, as people originally involved with the ministries association started to retire, interest faded, she said.

“Now we are looking toward St. Francis University to give the program a boost,” she said.

For her efforts, Small is the Person of the Week.

Cindy Drenning, assistant professor of nursing at St. Francis and one of the organizers of the conference, said Small has been a leader in nursing and the health ministry movement over the years.

“She remains active in moving forward the issue of the role of faith communities in health and wellness,” said Drenning, a health ministry nurse at the First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg.

For information about the conference and to register, call 472-3923 or visit The registration deadline is Friday.

Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at

Tribune-Democrat editors select a Person of the Week from nominations made by readers. To nominate someone, call 532-5058, 24 hours a day.

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