Former Children’s Chaplain Honored with Endowed Chair in Pastoral Education

December 2014

Rev. Priscilla Wood Neaves performed many dozens of weddings, baptisms and funerals and delivered hundreds of sermons as a United Methodist minister, but it was her time spent as a chaplain, in particular at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, that meant the most to her.

Her husband, Dr. Bill Neaves chose to honor that commitment by establishing the Chaplain Priscilla Wood Neaves Chair in Clinical Pastoral Education with a $500,857 gift to Children’s Medical Center Foundation. A few years ago, Rev. Neaves was diagnosed with cortical neurodegenerative disease; she is now in hospice care. 

Dr. Neaves, who is president emeritus of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., served as president and CEO of the Institute from 2000 to 2009 and as CEO until 2010. Prior to that he spent more than 20 years at UT Southwestern Medical Center in leadership roles, including dean of the graduate school and medical school, and as the first executive vice president for academic affairs. He plans to grow the endowment in pastoral education to $1 million.

“Priscilla’s call to ministry compelled her to help people, and she believed victims of trauma and their distraught families experienced the most intense need for pastoral care,” Dr. Neaves said. “Helping severely injured children and their loved ones during crises in the emergency room exhausted Priscilla physically and emotionally, but she never hesitated to respond compassionately. Overnight duty shifts in the Children’s emergency room during the 1990s gave her a perspective on life and death that she recalled more than a decade later when confronted with her own fatal diagnosis. 

“Priscilla responded by saying, ‘I know firsthand that much worse things happen to people than what’s happening to me.’ Her high regard for the institutional mission and the dedication of the staff at Children’s awakened in Priscilla the ambition to bequeath an endowment for the Clinical Pastoral Education Program. I am delighted that my former colleagues at UT Southwestern who are now at Children’s – Kern Wildenthal and Cyndi Bassel – helped me fulfill Priscilla’s wish. Nothing could be so gratifying to Priscilla as being perpetually associated with Clinical Pastoral Education at Children’s.”

Priscilla Wood was born in 1945 in Rotan, Texas, and attended school in the nearby town of Spur, where she and her future husband first noticed each other at an Easter egg hunt. She was in the first grade; he was in the second. Dr. Neaves said they recognized that they had important things in common. 

“We were notorious bookworms,” he explained. “Our first date occurred when our parents agreed to take us to the bookmobile’s monthly visit to Spur.”

Dr. Neaves said young Priscilla received the call to ministry around this same time, at age 11. “Her kindly pastor told her that he was so sorry, but only men could be pastors.” That was the same year – 1956 – that the United Methodist Church (UMC) authorized the ordination of women.

Priscilla married her childhood sweetheart in 1965 and graduated a year later from Boston University with a degree in sociology. Their first child was born in 1968, and their second in 1972. After a decade of childrearing, she enrolled in Perkins School of Theology and became an ordained Deacon in the Central Texas Conference of the UMC. She earned a Master of Theology cum laude from Southern Methodist University in 1985 and received Elder ordination in 1987. 

She was associate pastor at Martin United Methodist Church in Bedford, Texas, and at First United Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas. After several years, she accepted an appointment as director of development at Perkins, where she successfully led fundraising efforts. She missed ministry, however, and decided to enroll in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Children’s. For a decade, she served as a chaplain in the emergency room at Children’s, in the cancer ward at Parkland Memorial Hospital and in clinics at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

After she and Dr. Neaves relocated to Missouri in 2000, she served on the board of directors of the Midwest Bioethics Center and the Institutional Review Board of Children’s Mercy Hospital. From 2006 to 2010, she served pro bono publico as a full-time chaplain of Carroll County Memorial Hospital.

“This tribute to Priscilla is something that will benefit others in perpetuity in a manner that is uniquely appropriate for all she did and stood for,” said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, president of Children’s Medical Center Foundation and president emeritus of UT Southwestern. “My most fulfilling moments since moving to Children’s occurred when I first learned from Bill Neaves about this touching gift, and then when I called Doug Watts, our director of pastoral care, to inform him of the endowment and what it symbolizes.” 

Chaplain Watts, whose time in the chaplaincy program at Children’s in the mid-1990s intersected with Chaplain Neaves’ tenure, noted that this is the first major gift ever given in honor of a former chaplain. He will be the inaugural holder of the Chaplain Priscilla Wood Neaves Chair in Clinical Pastoral Education.

“It seems very significant to me that someone who came here to minister to the children and families and staff in this hospital has given a gift. She discovered, firsthand, what it was like to be here. I can’t imagine a better name to go with the chair of the director,” Chaplain Watts said.

As a final tribute to his wife of nearly 50 years, Dr. Neaves combed through her hundreds of sermons that she had preserved through the years and collected a sampling in a newly published book titled Sermons and Meditations.

“Priscilla preached beautifully, eloquently and spiritually,” Dr. Neaves wrote in the Afterward of the collection. He said the 15 to 20 hours of preparation that went into each 15-minute sermon made choosing the best very difficult. Included in the text is the credo she wrote in 1987 for her ordination as Elder. The ISBN number of the book is 1-934424-02-1. Dr. Neaves will place copies in the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology and will transfer the copyright to Abingdon Press as a royalty-free gift to the United Methodist Publishing House. 

Originally Published in Promising News


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