Thursday, November 04, 2004

News from the nursing home.

For a while I've been meaning to blog about the hospital experiment, but being busy with a million other things and having a hard time synthesizing my thoughts about this particular ministry have both kept me from doing so. Better late than never, I'll share some of my reflections now.

In a previous post, I discussed my experiences ministering to my Jesuit elders at Colombiere. Most of what I wrote last month still applies, though I can also say that over time the challenges seem to diminish and the joys and consolations grow. It's been great getting to know some of the older Jesuits, hearing their stories and helping them complete routine tasks. The men at Colombiere have done many different things: some were university presidents, others parish priests; some spent the better part of fifty years doing missionary work in India or Peru, while others spent an equally long period teaching high school in cities like Cincinnati or Toledo; some are famous writers, while others have served in happy obscurity. Some, unsurprisingly, are friendlier than others, but all are delighted to meet the novices who are "the future of the Society." On the whole, Colombiere has been a lot of fun, and I look forward to going back to visit the guys there even after our experiment ends in mid-December.

The other part of my hospital experiment has been much more challenging, but still quite rewarding. Three days a week, I and three other novices minister to patients at Abbey Living Center in Warren. As nursing homes go, Abbey is pretty good - the facility is well-kept, and the quality of care seems to be high. Nonetheless, it's still a challenging environment to find oneself in. Living two or three to a room, the residents don't have much privacy; many residents are depressed and despondent, and some express their frustration by lashing out at staff members and other residents. Though the Abbey staff are dedicated to giving the residents the best care they can, because the facility is home to almost 200 people it's hard to provide a lot of individual attention. As a result, some residents can feel very lonely and isolated. At the same time, however, it's important to recognize the contribution of the many happy and joyful residents who bring life and light to their companions. Three weeks into my experiment at Abbey, I've had the chance to meet and speak with residents from across a wide spectrum. Ministering to some has been a real struggle, as I've had a hard time to find the right words to lift them out of their depression and loneliness; sometimes, the best I can do is provide a helping hand and a sympathetic ear. Others, however, have effectively ministered to me by sharing some of the life and energy they possess in spite of their infirmities and limitations. Though it's been a tough time in some ways, I think I've benefitted a lot by going through it.

A lot of what we do at Abbey falls within the ambit of pastoral care. We spend some of our time visiting new residents to get a sense of where they're at spiritually, ask them about their needs (whether they'd like to receive communion, for example) and assure them of our prayers. We also help with the nursing home's weekly prayer services, which tend to be fairly ecumenical (though the residents are predominantly Catholic, many other faiths are represented) and are generally led by visiting volunteers of various denominations. Sister Rose, a feisty Dominican nun from Philadelphia, is the director of pastoral care and an absolute delight to work with. Other religious and clergy come in from time to time to help out, representing a veritable cornucopia of religious communities. For example, we have an IHM sister who comes in once a month to lead a prayer service, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who offers an occasional liturgy at the nursing home (a fair number of residents are Ukrainian), an amiable old Marianist priest who visits every other week to provide the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, and, of course, four novices of this least Society. And that's just the Catholics; as I noted above, the residents represent a spectrum of different denominations, and clergy and lay volunteers of various stripes accordingly visit from time to time.

Today an unexpected pastoral opportunity presented itself at Abbey when the priest who was scheduled to come in to offer Mass for the residents was unexpectedly forced to back out at the last minute. With many residents already gathered for the liturgy, the novices were given five minutes notice to throw together a communion service (thankfully, Sister Rose had some consecrated hosts reserved for just such an occasion). While Jonathan's group of novices has become quite expert at offering such services at the nursing home they visit, our Abbey group had never done one before. Despite having no time to plan, we managed to present a fairly seamless service with some music (courtesy of talented singer Eric and pianist Tony), a brief homily from yours truly, and communion for those who asked for it. In short, another exciting day in the life of some Jesuit novices. AMDG.


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