Monday, October 11, 2004

First day at Colombiere.

Fellow primi Adam, Eric, Tony and I started our hospital experiment this morning at the Jesuit infirmary at Colombiere Center. Saint Ignatius wanted Jesuit novices to spend several weeks or months working with the sick and dying in hospitals, hence the term "hospital experiment"; given changes in medical technology and the provision of health care, the experiences Ignatius considered common to "hospitals" are now more likely to be had in hospices and nursing homes. As practiced here, the hospital experiment involves one day a week assisting nurses' aides in caring for elderly Jesuits at Colombiere and three days visiting patients at a local nursing home; at Colombiere we play an active role in providing care, while our apostolate in the nursing homes is solely a ministry of presence. For logistical reasons, the fourteen first-year novices are split into teams of three or four and go on separate days to Colombiere and to different nursing homes. As previously noted, my group was supposed to start this week at Abbey Living Center, but due to unforseen circumstances it turns out we won't begin there until next Tuesday. One way or another, we finish up at both Colombiere and Abbey in early December.

Our time at Colombiere was positive on the whole though challenging at times. Most of the Jesuits living there are retired (though still "praying for the Church and the Society" in the words of the Jesuit catalogue) and range in age from the mid- to late-sixties to early-nineties. Though virtually all are Chicago or Detroit Province Jesuits, the men at Colombiere come from varied backgrounds and have had diverse experiences, having served as pastors, teachers, university presidents, missionaries, writers, artists and more. They also vary a lot in terms of physical and mental health: some are both physically spry and mentally acute, others are limited in mobility but still sharp of mind, some are in great physical shape but are slipping mentally while others are diminished in both mind and body. As visiting novices our most important responsibility is to simply spend time with the older Jesuits and get to know them better; as needed, we also provide more concrete forms of assistance - helping the men get from their rooms to the dining room or the chapel, carrying their trays at lunch, and helping the nursing staff with baths and other care as needed.

Going into the experiment, the prospect of helping old men get in and out of the bathtub was hard to deal with. In practice, however, it was a lot easier than I expected, in part because the nurse's aide I was with did most of the work and the Jesuit we were helping was cheerful and cooperative. The hardest part turned out to be helping him put on his socks and shoes afterward: it's funny something I do without even thinking can be so tricky when I'm trying to do it for someone else. Though the bath went pretty well, I still had a hard time watching some of the men at Colombiere struggle with their limitations - for many of them, being unable to complete on their own the routine tasks most take for granted is clearly very difficult, as is finding themselves wholly dependent on others after spending their whole lives in service, often in high-profile positions.

Once I've been to Abbey, it will be interesting to compare and contrast my experience there and at Colombiere. For now, I can at least say that - as I already noted above - ministering at the Jesuit infirmary can be very challenging, but so far it's also been an eye-opening opportunity for growth. AMDG.


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