One of the requirements for receiving a master's degree in divinity during our seminary training is to complete a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This summer, I have had the pleasure of completing the program at Albany Medical Center, a Trauma I hospital right in the heart of our Diocese.

CPE joins men and women of different faith backgrounds to come to learn collectively as a group from one another's experiences and mistakes in an immersive environment. We come to learn how we can be of service to patients and families in crisis, dealing with the loss of a loved one right in the moment, providing emotional and spiritual support as needed wherever we are called to. We come to learn by doing, "walking with" people during some of the most vulnerable and heart-wrenching times of their lives.

Simply put, chaplains are a "rock" upon which patients, families and staff can rely for emotional and spiritual support in times of need, allowing them to realize rather quickly that someone is truly there, that we will stay as long as needed and, most importantly, that they are not alone in their struggle.

The entire experience is intended for us to grow in our understanding of the human person - to learn how to enter into another person's situation, make a connection and most importantly learn what we ourselves can bring to another person, so that, by the end of the program, we have learned enough about ourselves, overcoming and facing our own fears and anxieties, that we have built the confidence to get a call and respond without hesitation.

This training couldn't be more crucial for all future priests, as they are the ones called upon day and night to come to the aid of the sick and dying. That's why it is required as a part of our formation.

What I have learned about myself through this 10-week intensive program has helped me to grow so much in my understanding of what I, as a future priest, can bring to a person or family in their time of need.

The "work" is demanding in almost every way: physically, emotionally, psychologically and even spiritually, causing me to question my own faith and beliefs. The result is helping me to see how what I thought I knew, what I thought you believed and why I believed it can change for the better.

This is empowering me to build a more solid foundation upon which to go out into the world as Jesus commanded, to love and serve one another as a truly good, holy, caring and compassionate priest who's there for the people I promised to serve.

The entire experience has been incredibly humbling and honoring -- to the point where I feel that I am not the same person I was just 10 short weeks ago. It has caused me to see firsthand what a priest does when he's called out in the middle of the night, what he willingly gives up and take on for his entrusted flock.

This incredibly important ministry is not limited to just priests. Deacons, religious men and women and lay ministers from our own parishes throughout the Diocese enter our hospitals each day with that same intent, dedication and gift of self, showing through their personal witness what it means to faithfully live out the second great commandment: "love of neighbor."

The weight they knowingly and willingly take on for others has left me even more humbled and grateful for my call to the priesthood, as I know that what I have learned from each of them has helped me to see what I can bring to the people when called upon in the future -- day or night.

(Deacon Kelly is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. A native of Newtonville, he was formerly business manager at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes.)