July 13, 2012

'Everything they do is out of love'

Special friendship connects two women who provided loving care for others

Louise Collet, left, and Providence Sister Susan Dinnin share an emotional hug on June 26, the last day that the longtime friends worked together at A Caring Place, the Catholic Charities Indianapolis program that provides adult day care services. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Louise Collet, left, and Providence Sister Susan Dinnin share an emotional hug on June 26, the last day that the longtime friends worked together at A Caring Place, the Catholic Charities Indianapolis program that provides adult day care services. (Photo by John Shaughnessy) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

In a few hours, their friendship would reach an emotional crossroads, but for now the two women sat just inches away from each other, recalling one of the moments that cemented their bond forever.

The friendship-defining moment between Louise Collet and Providence Sister Susan Dinnin happened about 10 years ago. By then, the two women were already good friends from their working relationship at A Caring Place, a Catholic Charities Indianapolis program that provides adult day care services. But their friendship grew even stronger when Collet’s husband, Charles, was in the midst of a 13-hour-long heart surgery.

“It was a time when you worry about where your life is going,” Collet recalled. “Sister helped me through that time with her support and her prayers. That was very important to me.”

Charles survived the surgery, and the Collets celebrated their 42nd anniversary on Nov. 8, 2011.

As for Louise Collet and Sister Susan, they marked a mostly sweet yet still emotional occasion of their own on June 26 when the community of A Caring Place came together to celebrate their mutual retirements, and their friendship built on faith, love and care for others.

“There isn’t anyone who has been around this program who doesn’t see the greatness of these two people,” said Mary McClelland, a longtime volunteer at A Caring Place. “Their belief in God motivates them on a daily basis. Everything they do is out of love.”

It’s a love that developed from heartbreaking challenges in both of their families.

A shared commitment

Before Sister Susan joined the staff of A Caring Place in 1990, she served as a caregiver for her mother during the last years of her life.

Collet used her knowledge and compassion as a registered nurse in caring for her mother, who was in poor health for the last 13 years that she lived. Collet also helped her brother as he struggled with cancer in his last three months.

Both their experiences led them to want to help the people—mostly elderly and developmentally disabled—and their caregivers who rely on A Caring Place as a source of comfort, care and support.

“We both have had a very strong commitment to this ministry,” said Sister Susan, who retired as program director. “I just feel that the two of us have felt that we just want to give the best possible care and the most loving care to our participants and their caregivers.”

Their double-team approach began 15 years ago when Sister Susan noticed the new volunteer who was working with the clients during an art class.

“I was just impressed with her presence,” Sister Susan said. “I love to watch her listen to our clients because she gives her undivided attention to them, and they greatly appreciate that. No matter how busy she is when they want to talk to her, she puts everything aside and makes them the most important person to her. And they know that.”

Still, their shared commitment and friendship almost didn’t have the opportunity to develop. Before coming to A Caring Place, Collet strongly considered volunteering at St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis. Seeing how Sister Susan treated people made Collet decide to stay.

“From day one, it has been a perfect match for me,” said Collet, who retired as the center’s associate director and health coordinator. “Every day that we’re here, we start with a prayer. That’s very important to me. And I love what Sister Susan stands for. I love her philosophy of care—kindness, gentleness of care, always putting the participant first, going above and beyond.

“We’ve seen people dying and going through changes in life. We’ve seen the happiness. We’ve seen the sadness. When you experience that, it draws you closer.”

‘It was a touching time’

Their closeness even showed during separate interviews when they were asked to share a special story from their time at A Caring Place.

Sister Susan recalled a former participant named Joseph.

“When he came to us, he was experiencing severe depression about the loss of his wife,” she said. “He had been a college professor. He didn’t want to come here. But he came and started to make new friends. He added so much life to this place. Back when the Pacers were going for a championship [in the days of Reggie Miller], Joseph would get off the bus, and he’d be dressed in blue and gold Bermuda shorts and his Pacers’ jersey. He’d be carrying a basketball and a pom-pom. He had people laughing with him. He said so many times how this place had changed his life.”

Collet focused on Joseph, too—at the time of his death.

“One of the most poignant times for me was taking him to the hospital, knowing he was dying. I was with him and his family,” recalled Collet, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “He was a man who came here vowing he would not stay here. By the first month, he fell in love with everyone here. When he passed away, it was a touching time. I knew he died a happy person.”

A promise for the future

A similar spirit—mostly joy, but touched with a measure of sadness—marked the retirement party for Collet and Sister Susan at A Caring Place.

People from the past and present lined up to offer their congratulations and their thanks to the two friends.

“They make a great team,” said Bill Lesch, 85, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, who is a client at A Caring Place. “Louise has been a very good nurse. My wife was a nurse so I know there’s more to being a nurse than just the medical part. She cares for people. And Sister Susan is just not an administrator. She’s Christ-like.”

Harriet Wilkins also joined in the celebration of the two women, returning to A Caring Place, where her father had come for four years before dying in 2006.

“Both have been so positive and upbeat with a clientele that is often no longer able to be responsive,” Wilkins said. “It’s a real gift to project that positive outlook.”

That positive perspective prevailed even on a day that marked an ending in their ministry together.

Collet beamed at the thought of spending more time with her husband, their three daughters and their four grandchildren.

And she smiled wryly when she said she plans to volunteer at St. Augustine Home for the Aged. That choice is slightly motivated by a touch of Catholic guilt for choosing to volunteer at A Caring Place 15 years ago, but it’s mostly inspired by the memory of her late Irish grandmother, who never let her age stop her from helping others.

This summer, Sister Susan will take a retreat, spend time with her family and visit with her Providence sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. In the fall, she plans to return to Indianapolis to live and do volunteer work.

Sister Susan isn’t sure yet how she will volunteer, but she and Collet are certain about one part of their lives.

“Our friendship will continue,” Collet said. “We have so much in common. That’s not going to change. She’s my friend.”

(If you have a story to share about how a friendship has had an impact on your faith, The Criterion is interested in hearing it. Submit your story to assistant editor John Shaughnessy at jshaughnessy@archindy.org or by mail in care of The Criterion, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. Please include a daytime number where you can be reached.)

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