Higher Diploma in Pastoral Theology (Healthcare Chaplaincy)

This is a level 8 programme for someone preparing for ministry leadership in a Healthcare setting. It is a recognised and direct path to certification as a Catholic Healthcare Chaplain, approved by the Healthcare Chaplaincy Board of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

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This is a level 8 programme for someone preparing for ministry leadership in a Healthcare setting. It is a recognised and direct path to certification as a Catholic Healthcare Chaplain, approved by the Healthcare Chaplaincy Board of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.


Application Closing Date - Non-EU 30th April 2024 - EU 30th June 2024

A bursary has been made available from the Bons Secours Health System to financially support people who are undertaking theology and pastoral training at SPPU as part of their journey to a career in Healthcare Chaplaincy. This bursary is administered by the Healthcare Chaplaincy Board. More details available at informationhcboard@gmail.com

This programme forms part of a person’s initial formation for chaplaincy leadership in a healthcare setting, preparing him/her to minister effectively in collaboration with multi-disciplinary healthcare colleagues in the provision of holistic healthcare in public, voluntary, and private healthcare facilities. It prepares students to use advanced skills in professional caring ministry, especially leadership in prayer, pastoral care, and accompaniment with persons who suffer because of illness, trauma, tragedy, grief and bereavement.

This level allows students to develop a detailed knowledge of theological principles as these relate to ministry practice, and an understanding of concepts, methods, and models pertaining to ways of doing theology in practice.

It enables students to develop the ability to act in variable contexts, to be flexible in response to the needs of persons who are terminally ill or actively dying, to their family members and loved ones, and to professional colleagues who are deeply impacted by health-related conditions and experiences.

Students encounter a diversity of situations and people, go beyond their comfort zone, and learn to minister compassionately and sensitively, providing comforting outreach, sacramental care, facilitating the celebration of liturgy, public worship, and spiritual practices as appropriate within a challenging healthcare landscape.

The programme further enables students to:

  • exercise appropriate judgment in complex situations, advocate for the persons in their care, and manage crisis in the practice of pastoral care;
  • take responsibility for forming a habit of reflective practice for ministry;
  • express a comprehensive, internalised, personal worldview, achieving self-awareness and critical reflection as these relate to pastoral ministry;
  • face the demands of making collaborative ministry work and actively participate in the creation and maintenance of a healthy work environment;
  • exercise initiative and independent thought, to interact intelligently, empathically, ethically, and professionally within their ministerial context;
  • differentiate appropriate ministerial approaches within complex institutional cultures and systems, in response to varying group dynamics and organisational behaviour.

This Higher Diploma follows the same academic and placement schedules as the Diploma and Higher Diploma in Pastoral Theology, and is awarded on the successful completion of one year’s full-time engagement.

Career Outcomes

Catholic Healthcare Chaplain

Certification in Catholic Healthcare Chaplaincy is granted by The Healthcare Chaplaincy Board (HCB), which is a sub-committee of the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The standards for Roman Catholic Applicants who wish to present for Certification by the HCB are available on the Catholic Bishops' website.

Course Structure

Pastoral Practice 30 Credits

Students commit to a placement education experience in a ‘Teaching Hospital,’ from September to April. The basic areas of ministerial practice within the acute general placement site are typically as follows: pastoral care within a clinical environment, including critical and emergency care; leading or participating in hospital liturgies and services in the chapel, mortuary, ward, or bedside; serving as ministers of the Word or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.

Placement usually takes place between Sunday and Wednesday of each week, for an average of 19 hours per week, with classes in Maynooth on Thursday and Friday. Students may also be required to participate in a number of block placements in their placement sites, with an extended contact time of 22-25 hours per week.

Placement education sites, or ‘Teaching Hospitals’, are assigned to the student by the Module Coordinator, who is working in collaboration with the Catholic Healthcare Chaplaincy Board.

The Pastoral Practice module includes the following: mentoring support with an on-site Placement Contact Person (the Director of Pastoral Care/Head Chaplain) or his/her Designated Alternate; one-to-one consultation with an assigned staff mentor in SPCM; two visits by an assigned Placement Supervisor; participation in weekly small-group, peer-support, theological reflection sessions; and, an end-of-year integration day.

The placement education experience is a central context for learning and growth, and is fundamental for the overall pastoral formation of the students.

Prayer Leadership 7.5 Credits
Caring and Spiritual Accompaniment 5 Credits
Theology and Pastoral Ministry 7.5 Credits
Organisational Leadership in Ministry Contexts 5 Credits
Healthcare Chaplaincy: Leadership Ministry of Healing and Justice 5 Credits
Summer Intensive Placement in Clinical Setting

Students will undertake a second placement in a clinical setting to consist of 10 weeks, with 35 hours of clinical practice each week. Assigned clinical areas will include critical care: intensive care unit, trauma care, stroke care, emergency department, oncology, and haematology care. The placement will include 3 night’s rostered work and 3 rostered weekends. Small-group, peer-support, theological reflection sessions will take place at the placement site, facilitating a deepening of the student’s reflective practice.

A Summer School will take place in Maynooth over 3 Saturdays, covering areas such as: understanding and managing oneself, leading and managing others, leading change, organisation leadership, leadership and management skills for the future, developing a culture of research and development in best practice, and the integration of learning in preparation for Certification as Catholic Healthcare Chaplains.

This Summer Intensive Placement is a qualifier for the completion of the Higher Diploma in Pastoral Theology (Healthcare Chaplaincy), and is a prerequisite for satisfying the certification standards for the Catholic Healthcare Chaplaincy Board.

Application Requirements

Candidates are required to have a recognised degree qualification.

Candidates need a level 8 qualification in theology.

Candidates with other degrees may be admitted if they have experience of providing pastoral care in a healthcare setting. However, these will be required to take courses in theology to qualify for admission.

Applications are now open and can be made through www.pac.ie (Code - MU521)

If you have any queries please contact admissions@spcm.ie.

PLEASE NOTE: Application forms must be completed in full, and all documentation must be provided BEFORE an application can be considered. Applicants will not be called for interview if an application is incomplete.

Applicants whose first language is not English will be required to satisfy the English language requirement.

Successful individual and group interviews are an essential part of the selection process.

If you live outside Ireland, check out our dedicated area for international students.

Let’s talk

For Undergraduate queries: email admissions@spcm.ie.

For Postgraduate queries: email pgadmissions@spcm.ie.

For The Centre for Mission & Ministries queries, email: cmmadmissions@spcm.ie.