Catherine Cha Cheong, (ATS ’14) Program Manager, Neonatal Comfort Care

Nyack’s own Dr. Inseon Hwang is valiantly leading the School of Nursing and preparing nursing students to take Christ-centered compassion and skill to patients.  However, the healthcare industry is not a simple division of labor between medical doctors and registered or licensed practical nurses. Healing is needed for an injured or diseased body, but emotionally broken or grieving souls have needs that are quite different. This kind of care is fulfilled by people in non-clinical roles played by people like our Alliance Theological Seminary alumna Catherine Cha Cheong.

Paths to our passions are not always a direct route.  Catherine Cha Cheong is testament to that fact.

After earning her J.D. from Boston University School of Law, it was thirteen years later that—what started with taking one ATS class—she graduated from the MA program in Old Testament with highest distinction. Meeting her husband and 2010 ATS alumnus, Danny, there represents another landmark in her life, topped only by the two adorable daughters—Sasha and Sofia—they now share.

It’s been quite a journey from Ivy League undergraduate studies, law school, and seminary to where God has her serving today. Part-time employee in the ATS Admissions Office. Teaching assistant to ATS Dean Ron Walborn for five and half years. ATS Rockland Field Education Program Coordinator for six and a half years. Adjunct instructor and internship coordinator in Nyack’s criminal justice department for four and half years and Nyack’s Judicial Affairs Officer for three years—holding most of these roles simultaneously.

“In 2017, I transitioned out of Nyack/ATS to take on the inaugural role of program manager for the Neonatal Comfort Care Program (NCCP) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital (CUIMC/NYP),” says Catherine. “Columbia University is my undergraduate alma mater and I was happy to return to familiar stomping grounds.” To that she adds, “My time at Nyack/ATS made plain for me that the administrative skills the Lord had heavily stocked me with are valuable. Decades of feeling bummed that my ‘primary spiritual gift’ on those spiritual gifts assessments was administration were healed and replaced with affirmation by God and confirmation by my Nyack/ATS bosses, colleagues, and students.”

Catherine’s contribution to the NCCP team includes cultivating and sustaining strategic development and donor relationships; researching and preparing grant proposals; establishing the program brand and social media presence and coordinating annual training courses and teaching workshops.

After ten years in a Christian work environment, being called to a secular workplace did evoke some apprehension. But answering the call presented more confirmation that God had opened a door that would not be closed—even in an unexpected turn of events. It was two weeks before she started her new job that she nervously faced her boss with a request for time off. Her 3-year-old daughter urgently needed cervical fusion surgery. Catherine was floored by the response: “Take as many days as you need; I will cover for you.” About the three-month period she’d need off as her child recovered, she heard, “Why don’t you work from home one or two days a week, so you and your husband can share caregiver duties?” And to Catherine’s waterfall of tears, the supervisor exhorted her, “BABIES FIRST. This is what we do. Always BABIES FIRST.”

In addition to having an incredibly compatible team of co-workers, Catherine was attracted to the nature of work. “My boss developed the Neonatal Comfort Care Program in response to the clear need for another medical option for mothers and their dying newborns. It is absolutely astonishing to watch the NCCP team devote endless time and attention to a mother who is expecting to deliver a very, very sick baby; support the family with a full-staffed interdisciplinary team (chaplain, social worker, psychologist, speech language pathologist and child life specialist) to help them cherish the pregnancy and welcome their baby with joy; apply the utmost medical and nursing skill to the care of the newborn—no matter how long he or she will live—and then continue to journey with the surviving family members through their grieving process.”

It’s noteworthy that a part of Catherine’s application for the job was submitting writing samples. One of hers was a blog post about grief, which led to an interview hour discussing grief and faith, life and death, despair and hope. There’s a harmony between her ministry at home and her ability to work remotely.

The path that led Catherine to the Neonatal Comfort Care Program was perfect fit for her servant leadership.   “We absolutely abide in the joy and pain of the ‘now and not yet,’ and we help navigate families through that tension, too. It is a beautiful position to be in and the core of my soul could only have been prepared for this work at Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary.”