For decades they wiped noses, took temperatures, taught children to read, served as administrators, musicians, nurses and support staff. They unselfishly performed community service and served as pastoral care ministers. They were hardworking, diligent and entrusted every aspect of their lives to God.
Now, as the members of the School Sisters of St. Francis and School Sisters of Notre Dame age and struggle with memory issues, a personalized care residence home is opening in early February to provide for them as they did for others.
Located on the southwest corner of Clement Manor Campus, Our Lady of the Angels, Greenfield, is a collaborative venture that will provide memory care and related services for members of those religious communities.
The residence will serve 48 sisters from around the state that will live in four communities of 12. Each will have a private room with a bathroom and accessible shower and each will be treated in a compassionate, enriching environment to give them the best quality of life as they live with memory loss, explained School Sister of St. Francis Regina Pacis Meservey, coordinator of sponsorship services for the United States province.
“The whole facility is designed to be home-like,” said Sr. Regina. “This will also be achieved by quality state-of-the-art specialized programming that the sisters will be able to exercise choice related to their interests and previous backgrounds, from what time they want to get up, eat or in finding their untapped talents.”
For those adept at solving puzzles, playing cards, painting, drawing or music, Our Lady of the Angels staff will provide resources and encouragement to tap into the sisters’ gifts.
“We wanted a state-of-the-art facility to encourage our sisters to explore and revisit their specialties. We will have multiple programming going on at one time,” explained Sr. Regina, adding, “For example, on one end of the room, one of the sisters might be playing the piano or organ and others might be working on a puzzle, reading or playing a game of cards. This need to exercise choice is in very great need in a number of women’s religious communities as well as for priests of the archdiocese and other religious communities.”
Natural lighting, screened porches, garden areas and courtyards visible from each of the bedrooms, and all without disruptive alarms alerting staff to someone going outside, are ways to ensure the residence is homelike.
“We want this place to be as nice as the freedom you have in your own home,” said Sr. Regina, “But we have so much more, too, such as a reflection room for quiet prayer, rosary or Benediction, a eucharistic chapel, rehabilitation areas, exercise room and spa, beauty salon and many activities.”
The project, which the congregations hope will be a model for other memory care facilities, began in 2006 with nine groups discussing the best means to meet the needs of the aging members coping with memory loss. Plans to build the memory care facility on the Clement Manor Campus, a non-profit retirement community sponsored by the School Sisters of St. Francis, evolved.
“After two years of discussions, it was decided that our two orders would sponsor the non-profit residence and we utilized an excess piece of land on the Manor Campus,” said Sr. Regina. “We also knew that we would not have a successful project if we didn’t collaborate by using the strengths of our religious orders, and our partners in the Community Care Pace Program in the city and, of course, Clement Manor.”
The Pace program will provide nursing services for the sisters, and Clement Manor will provide support services such as dining, housekeeping, laundry and maintenance.
Additional assistance by the Alzheimer Association will equip staff members in providing person-centered care. The research by the Alzheimer Association is so effective, that work in memory care is different from just five years ago.
“We are learning that even a piece of chocolate can do a better job of calming patients than giving them certain medications,” said Sr. Regina. “We want them living in the moment and we want them to have company. They are happy and contented when someone visits with them. They may not remember yesterday, but every day should be peaceful.”
Every detail for the $5 million project was planned with the comfort of the sisters in mind, she said. Funding came with help from the National Religious Retirement Office, the religious communities and private donors. While it was paramount the home be under Mary’s protection and patronage, the name Our Lady of the Angels compliments both orders.
“We studied the beginnings of our order and found that St. Francis of Assisi had a favorite chapel called the Portiuncula. He frequently went there to get reconnected with God and that little chapel today sits in a large basilica in Assisi, called Our Lady of the Angels. We also had a western province that was named Our Lady of the Angels,” explained Sr. Regina. “We also found that the Sisters of Notre Dame had a connection that goes back to the foundress of the order, named Mother Caroline. She had a main chapel in the old motherhouse dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. This was a moment of ‘aha’ that this has meaning for both orders from the beginning.”