NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Doctors and nurses across the country have been toiling endlessly since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

They have given every ounce of energy they have to care for patients suffering from this disease and have witnessed tragic things on a daily basis that many of us cannot begin to imagine.

Catholic school students in the Diocese of Nashville have recently started a project to support these heroic men and women in the best way they know how: through prayer.

The doctors and nurses at Ascension St. Thomas hospitals in Nashville and other surrounding areas have daily staff meetings where they pray with each other before beginning their shifts.

Those doctors and nurses thought it would be a good idea to ask local churches and schools to write prayers for these meetings, said Greg Pope, chief ministry and mission officer of Ascension Health.

Pope has been joining “a regular check-in call with school leaders across the diocese to provide updates on infection rates, hospitalization data and general information on the pandemic,” he said.

So he shared the prayer request with school leaders at the suggestion of Nashville’s diocesan superintendent of schools, Rebecca Hammel.

Pope John Paul II Preparatory School in Hendersonville, Tennessee, was the first school to get on board.

The students, many of whom have doctors and nurses in their families, leapt at the opportunity to get involved, said Joshua Strope, head of the prep school’s theology department. He is one of the key people leading this initiative at the school, as his wife is a nurse at Ascension St. Thomas.

“I knew that this was an opportunity that our entire student body would be able to contribute to and benefit from,” Strope told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper. “I’m blown away that students from our entire student body, 6-12th grades, were eager to participate.”

“Our theology teachers have seen how our students have been impacted by health care workers so the chance to offer up a prayer in support was a no-brainer,” he added. “This is a difficult time to be a health care worker, and I think we all recognize that and want to offer up a word of praise.”

Strope thinks it is important for the church to support doctors and nurses.

In addition to Catholic churches, members of local Protestant and nondenominational churches have joined the doctors and nurses at their prayer meetings.

“Doctors and nurses live out lives modeled after Christ the healer from the Gospels, and we as a church ought to support that mission as much as possible,” Strope said. “Many of our students, faculty, and staff have family members who are in the health care industry. These are men and women who love their patients, who pray for their patients, who hurt for their patients.

“This empathetic care, rooted in Christ’s message of healing and peace, is the keystone of both Catholic education and Catholic health care, and as such, we ought to support each other,” Strope said.

By and large, these prayers have been simple and heartfelt, for these doctors and nurses to have the strength and courage they need to face the day. But they mean the world to the health care workers who receive them.

“Patients during the latest spike in COVID have been much younger in age and more acutely ill than before,” Pope said. “Doctors, nurses and patient care assistants have been doing double and triple duty. The number of critically ill patients has been staggering, and the number of deaths truly unprecedented.

“Bedside caregivers are exhausted,” Pope said. “Any encouragement goes a long way in helping them carry on.”

Grzybowski writes for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.