'The other day when her lunch arrived, she moved the tray away and went right for the lemon meringue pie slice. I figured at 108, she has every right to start with the sweets!'
During their second year of studies, seminarians at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary are sent out every Tuesday on pastoral assignments. These assignments focus on caring for the sick, the elderly, and the infirm. Echoing the Lord's call in the Gospels for "mercy, not sacrifice" (Mt. 9:13), Father Stephen Linehan, director of Pastoral Formation at PSJS, underscores the importance of the fundamental mission of all the baptized to reach out to the afflicted. This hands-on learning period helps seminarians prepare for their future role as parish priests and the pastoral care of the sick and dying. "All of the baptized have received the mission to be merciful." Father Linehan said, "The corporal and spiritual works of mercy call us to visit the sick and comfort the afflicted." When caring for seniors and the infirmed, Father Linehan reminds seminarians that as true followers of Christ, we must "bring encouragement, hope, and reassurance" wherever we go.
Oftentimes, however, the people ministered to by the seminarians provide the seminarians themselves with "encouragement, hope, and reassurance." Carmine Caruso, a second-year seminarian for the Archdiocese of New York, has been encouraged numerous times by a 108-year-old resident of Queen Anne Nursing Home in Hingham, Margaret A.
"Truly, Margaret is one of the most humble souls I have ever met. It may sound like cliché, but I assure you it's the truth." Carmine recalls one particular moment he spent with Margaret that captured her zest for life. "The other day when her lunch arrived, she moved the tray away and went right for the lemon meringue pie slice. I figured at 108, she has every right to start with the sweets!"
The Patriot Ledger, a local newspaper based out of Quincy, recently profiled Margaret. "Still 'amazing' at 108," it chronicled her love for family, bird watching, and bingo. As good as it was, the article missed mentioning the source of Margaret's great drive and energy -- her Catholic faith. Carmine regularly visits Margaret and brings her Holy Communion as part of his pastoral assignment. He recently asked Margaret what the secret was to her long life. She answered: "Faith and family." Margaret has great devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus; she always wears a Blessed Mother bracelet, she loves singing Marian hymns, especially the great hymn from Lourdes, "Immaculate Mary."
"Her commitment, devotion, and humility inspire me each time we celebrate our weekly Holy Communion services. She always comes away more vibrant and more alive ..." Carmine noted. He attributes this energy to the transformational power and the grace of the Holy Eucharist.
Another member of the PSJS Class of 2021, Stephen Ondrey, from the Diocese of Columbus, served his pastoral assignment at St. Patrick's Manor in Framingham. Stephen got the privilege to know Dorothy C., who at 111 makes Margaret A. appear young by comparison! Researchers on aging call Dorothy a supercentenarian -- those older than 110 earn that distinction. A daily communicant, Brooklyn-born Dorothy was a longtime New Yorker, having raised her family there. Now a great-great-grandmother, she recently moved to Massachusetts to be closer to her daughter Alice. Alice is a longtime volunteer at St. Patrick's Manor.
For Stephen, getting to know Dorothy has proven to be a moving experience. "Her tenacity and independence really inspire me. She has physical limitations, yet she remains bold and quick-witted; she wants to be involved in all the decisions that affect her life." Dorothy's advice for this former dentist studying for the priesthood is, "Keep your spirits up. Everyone needs to keep their spirits up." Encouragement for all of us!
Carmine and Stephen both agree that their experiences this year ministering to the elderly and infirm, to Margaret and Dorothy particularly, have provided them with enormous affirmation, encouragement, and hope. "My experience at Queen Anne Nursing Home has helped me realize more deeply the responsibility we all have to be Christ-like to the elderly, to their families, to the staff members, to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It has helped me also to get ready to serve as a priest for them," Carmine remarked.
Stephen agreed with his classmate. "Ministering to the residents at St. Patrick's Manor affirmed me in my vocation. I witnessed their struggles with loneliness and their attempts to find meaning in their lives. I also saw how they were strengthened, encouraged, enlivened, and comforted by my visits with them and as we prayed together."
As we reflect on the love we have for elderly members of our own families, let us also keep in prayer those seniors in nursing care facilities ministered to by the men of PSJS, whose faith and wisdom are an inspiration to us all. Of this fact you can be certain: the centenarians are definitely praying for our seminarians!
DAN MCHALE IS A SEMINARIAN AT POPE ST. JOHN XXIII NATIONAL SEMINARY FROM THE DIOCESE OF ALBANY.