Academy at Johannes-Hospiz Münster
(by Johanna Macher, first appeared in “Profile aus der Stadt Münster”, Vol. 3, 2014; slightly abridged)
In its Western form, the tradition of “ars moriendi” − the art of dying − can be traced to antiquity,all the way back to Plato and the cradle of European philosophy. In practice, this tradition represents a wealth of spiritual techniques that all focus on helping us to accept death as an inevitable fact of human existence, the true meaning and impact of which are really only felt once death begins to cast its shadow over an individual. These techniques aim to create a mindset that allows an individual to face death without fear. Andreas Stähli explored the role of ars moriendi in modern hospice care as part of his doctoral studies, though he has taken his academic research a step further; he works to establish the tradition as the cornerstone in the training and educational programmes he develops, which function as an interface between theory and practice.
Born in Munich on 30 May 1963, the director of the academy at Johannes-Hospiz embodies the very notion of bridging and mediating theory and practice. “Two natures” unite in him, he notes: one side that is “strongly geared towards social needs”, intent on practical activities that always focus on people; and a “restless heart” striving for theoretical understanding which finds spiritual nourishment in contemplation. His unusual CV reflects, what seems to be, his successful attempt to unite both sides, and therefore the “love of literature and people”, in a harmony of meaningful action.
His academic background alone is enough to suggest a deep thirst for knowledge that far outstrips the aim of merely becoming professionally qualified: it has taken him all across Germany, starting with a general studies programme in Berlin, continued in Munich with a combined focus on philosophy, theology and logic, and culminated in a master’s degree in philosophy, only to be followed up in 2006 with a doctoral programme in Münster.. According to Andreas Stähli, his ongoing pursuit of higher education is essential to the person he is, to his identity (…). However, academia by itself was not enough for Stähli in his quest to sound out all of the potential inside him. Once he had completed his master’s degree, he decided to enrol in nursing training. Afterwards, he spent several years working in palliative care in Munich. As the son of a senior physician, he noted that his experiences as a child led to him see the “hospital as a good place”. In addition, his mother helped foster an appreciation in him for the world of fairy tales and imagined scenes, both of which have proved to be a real asset in his work on social issues.
In 2005, he left Southern Germany to accept a position as a caregiver at Johannes-Hospiz in Münster. Upon his arrival in the city that was home to the Peace of Westphalia, an idea began to take shape for him of developing an educational programme focussed on hospice care. That idea was the seed that would grow into the Academy today. The basic course Palliative Care for Caregivers, taught by Andreas Stähli, was designed to be the foundation. The pioneering work done in, what was at that time uncharted territory, included the establishment of a subject library, a pool of speakers, and a partner network indispensable to carrying out larger events. In addition to organising events, providing speaker support and holding lectures, Andreas Stähli − member of the German, European and two international associations for hospice and palliative care − also heads up the editorial office of the hospice magazine “Kairos”. He sees his role as located at the junction between the daily practical concerns of hospice work and the task of educating others in the theoretical knowledge of palliative care as a social responsibility. Many of the academy’s continuing education programmes are geared not only towards care professionals, but also to interested members of the public. After all, he notes, we are all affected by death as a fact of our existence, even if we are inclined to banish any such thought from our daily lives so often dominated by hedonistic images that glorify a culture of youth. “I would be delighted if we managed to succeed in becoming a part of the city’s educational sector with our expertise on the topics of dying and death,” the academy’s director says, referring to the wide range of educational opportunities in Münster, setting a goal with regard to the perception of the academy in the city.
Although Johannes-Hospiz was founded as a Christian-run institution committed to Christian ethics, it provides people of different religious and cultural backgrounds a safe, life-affirming space at the end of their lives. The kind of cultural diversity experienced in hospice work as a result of current societal trends is reflected in the educational programmes that go along with providing hospice care. Andreas Stähli has defined the focus for the upcoming years as spiritual care, transcultural aspects and the establishment of international contacts. Stähli himself is, in his own words, a “religious pluralist” on a search. He recently took a nine-month trip around the world to “worship God in all of the world’s temples”. For him, this concept attributed to Cicely Saunders, a pioneer of the hospice movement, must be explored in juxtaposition and opposition to the the humanitarian idea of ensuring terminally ill people a dignified death with the use of palliative care and symptoms management. Stähli was able to have a close look for himself while visiting a hospice in India, for instance, at the extent to which this concept, so global in nature, is able to demonstrate its dynamic side − in other words, how great “the ability to amalgamate culturally” really is. (…)