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Chicago Bishop Paula Clark credits faith for carrying her through health crisis, family tragedy

Bishop Paula Clark greets clergy on April 4 after the Chrism Mass and Renewal of Vows at St. James Cathedral. Photo/David Paulsen/ENS

By David Paulsen

Episcopal News Service

Spend even the briefest of time with Chicago Bishop Paula Clark and you’re bound to hear her bright voice lavishing a good amount of praise and thanksgiving on a range of recipients. She uses the word “awesome” often, whether describing a recent visit to a parish in Wauconda, Ill. – “They are doing awesome ministry!” – or talking about her own ordination and consecration as bishop before a crowd of more than 800 people in September 2022.

“It was awesome, it really was,” she told Episcopal News Service in an interview last week in her downtown office.

Awesome, or awe-inspiring, could also describe her own story, particularly her surviving and recovering from a debilitating brain condition known as an arteriovenous malformation. She was born with the condition, but it remained undetected until April 2021, when two weeks before her original consecration date it manifested as a life-threatening health crisis.

Clark was in the middle of a workout at a Chicago health club. Suddenly “things went haywire,” she said. She couldn’t walk. Her body wasn’t responding. Paramedics and doctors initially suspected she was dehydrated from exercising, she recalled, but a friend, who is a doctor, insisted she request a CAT scan. It revealed she had suffered a cerebral bleed, and after conducting additional angiograms, doctors diagnosed the arteriovenous malformation in her brain.

Clark suffered a stroke while surgeons operated, a side effect of their attempts to fix the brain’s wiring. The procedure was otherwise successful. Her consecration was delayed more than 18 months as she tended to her health.

Clark was to face another tragic challenge as she attempted to recover — to read the full story, click here.

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