May 22, 2020

‘A sacrifice of love’: Staff, families of residents at Hermitage show faith, dedication in response to virus

Therese Brandon, left, and Father Joseph Moriarty visit their father, Patrick Moriarty, on April 30 through the window of their father’s room at the St. Paul Hermitage retirement community in Beech Grove. For more than two months, visitors have not been allowed except for end-of-life situations to help protect the residents and staff members from the coronavirus. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Therese Brandon, left, and Father Joseph Moriarty visit their father, Patrick Moriarty, on April 30 through the window of their father’s room at the St. Paul Hermitage retirement community in Beech Grove. For more than two months, visitors have not been allowed except for end-of-life situations to help protect the residents and staff members from the coronavirus. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BEECH GROVE—It’s a daily pilgrimage for Therese Brandon.

Working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic herself as a nurse practitioner at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, she drives after work to the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove to visit her father, Patrick Moriarty, who has lived at the retirement community for 14 years.

Until March 11, Brandon would feed him supper and prepare him for bed. But starting on that date, Brandon’s visits have been limited to seeing her 89-year-old father through the window of his room in the nursing home section of the facility. That was the day that the staff of the Hermitage stopped allowing visitors—except for end-of-life situations—in order to do as much as possible to keep the virus from the facility.

“He’s not able to communicate well, but I’m grateful for the chance to simply see him, to pray with him and to just be outside his window to watch him sleep,” said Brandon, a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. “He is safe and COVID free in the loving arms of Jesus at St. Paul Hermitage, and for this I am grateful.”

The love that leads Brandon to the Hermitage daily also inspires family members of other residents to make similar pilgrimages.

It’s also love that empowers the staff of the Hermitage to go far above and beyond the call of duty to care for and protect the residents there. (Related story: St. Roch parishioners use bucket truck to visit former pastor)

All of them—the 97 residents, their families and the staff members—are making a sacrifice of love.

‘A place full of saints and martyrs’

The sacrifice was at first devastating for Brandon. But it ultimately deepened her faith in God.

“The challenging time of going from touching, hugging, kissing and demonstrating love by touch, to talking through a window has helped me to recognize and draw closer to Mary the Mother of God,” Brandon said. “She was unable to touch Jesus on the road as he carried his cross to Calvary. But she remained present—emotional and heartbroken—but present. And she is present with us this very day.”

One of Brandon’s brothers is Father Joseph Moriarty, rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. He makes regular window visits to his father, and is glad that his remaining living parent lives in a nursing home facility built on Catholic principles where there is a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament present.

“It’s a consolation,” Father Moriarty said. “In a secular nursing home, he wouldn’t live under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament.”

Retired Father James Wilmoth is a resident in the assisted living section of the Hermitage. Before March 11, he would go out daily for lunch or home visits with friends. And many would come to visit him in his apartment.

While none of that is possible at present, he appreciates the care given him and his fellow residents by the Hermitage staff.

“It’s hard, very hard,” he said. “I know the restrictions are necessary. The staff has been absolutely wonderful. The nurses, the aides, the people who do the cooking of our meals—they’ve all done a fantastic job under very difficult conditions.”

The lockdown at the Hermitage has also deepened the faith of Rita Boyle, who pays window visits each day to her husband, Bob. He has lived at the Hermitage for a year and is suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

“My prayer life has increased dramatically,” said Boyle, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “I could have never made it this far without my faith. It has been the most important thing to me.”

Boyle, 78, has been married to Bob, 83, for 56 years. Those decades of the love and life they’ve shared fill her thoughts when she comes to see her husband through his window.

“Sometimes, I just stand there and look at him,” Boyle said. “A lot of it is just thinking how fast our lives went. I hope we took the time to enjoy all the time that we did have. I still get very emotional about it.”

When taking care of Bob at home became too difficult for her, Boyle knew that the Hermitage was the only place for him. So, she was grateful beyond words when she learned about a year ago that Bob had been accepted as a resident.

“The day I got the call that they could take him—that was the only prayer that I ever wanted answered,” said Boyle through tears. “It’s a place full of saints and martyrs. All of the residents are on their way to heaven to be saints. And all the workers that are taking care of them are the martyrs. I took care of Bob here at home for as long as I could. It’s not easy.”

‘A sacrifice of love’

Benedictine Sister Heather Jean Foltz knows well the difficulties of caring for the residents of the Hermitage. She knows it every day—and often every evening and night.

A member of the adjacent Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Sister Heather Jean serves as the administrator of the Hermitage. Because of the measures put in place there to protect the residents and staff from the coronavirus, she now lives in an apartment in the assisted living section of the Hermitage.

“This makes me available should something come up in the middle of the night,” Sister Heather Jean said. “It also has helped give the residents a sense of security.”

That means that, like the residents who are separated from their loved ones, Sister Heather Jean cannot visit her community of Benedictine sisters at Our Lady of Grace. This separation, she says, gives her “a sense of solidarity with our residents.”

When her work schedule allows, she’ll pray along with a daily livestreamed video of her community as it prays evening prayer in their chapel just across the grounds from the Hermitage. She’ll also visit with them through video conferences, phone calls, letters and care packages—all means of staying in touch, in part through iPads made available to the Hermitage by Holy Name of Jesus School in Beech Grove.

“While social networking has been a great gift, it cannot replace person-to-person visits,” Sister Heather Jean said. “It is a sacrifice that we are called to at this time.”

Her ability to make this sacrifice is strengthened by recalling the day when she professed perpetual vows as member of Our Lady of Grace, which she entered 11 years ago.

“In that moment, I gave my whole self to God and my community,” Sister Heather Jean said. “In serving in this position, it is an extension of that commitment of love. I have been entrusted by my community to serve our residents and their families. Right now, that yes is calling me to be here, sharing Christ’s love with our residents, their families, and our staff. It is a sacrifice of love that I am being called to at this time.”

‘Instruments of God’s loving care’

The Benedictine sisters of Our Lady of Grace look to the Rule of St. Benedict as an inspiration in their ministry at the Hermitage.

In it, St. Benedict exhorts Benedictines to rank the care of the sick “above and before all else” so that “they may be truly served as Christ.”

“It is important now for us to be instruments of God’s loving care,” Sister Heather Jean said. “To see Christ in our residents requires a deep listening and response to their needs.

“It is important to us that they know that they are loved. When we tuck them into bed at night, we pray with them and bless them. This is an important piece of our care. It is how we show Christ’s love and honor the Christ within those that we serve.”

The families of residents know how much the staff of the Hermitage care for their loved ones through daily e-mail updates sent to them by Sister Heather Jean, who lets them know about daily activities, information about COVID-19 and regulatory changes.

Boyle appreciates the care that the Hermitage staff members show her husband and the transparency in their communication. She and a daughter-in-law show them their support by sending them an almost constant stream of baked goods.

“We all realize the work that they do and how stressful all of this has to be for them,” Boyle said. “It’s a little something extra to let them know that we see that what they’re doing is extra.”

Brandon has a special appreciation of the care that the Hermitage staff gives to her father. Her mother long ago worked as a registered nurse at the Hermitage and was later a resident there before her death. And Brandon worked there previously as its director of nursing.

“I’m very appreciative of the staff here that do the work,” Brandon said. “They’re taking care of our loved ones.”

‘God will lead us through this time’

Sister Heather Jean knows only too well the danger that the residents and staff members face if the virus were to spread to them. According to recent statistics from the Indiana Department of Health, 41 percent of the more than 1,600 COVID-19 deaths in the state have been of residents of long-term care facilities.

The Hermitage’s staff members vigilantly follow all the latest measures mandated by local, state and federal government authorities. Thankfully, no Hermitage resident has so far tested positive for the virus.

“It is a great responsibility to try to keep our community safe,” Sister Heather Jean said. “I am grateful for our staff at St. Paul Hermitage. They are very invested in our ministry here. They see it as a ministry as well. They have done a very good job of implementing our COVID-19 safety plan. They are prepared to act if someone does become ill.”

At the same time, she recognizes the importance of prayer in protecting the residents and staff from the virus.

“I pray every day for our community here at St. Paul Hermitage,” Sister Heather Jean said. “My community prays for our ministry every day and daily at 3 p.m. for an end to COVID-19. They ring the bells and pause in prayer. Our Hermitage community prays the rosary every day at 11 a.m., and we pray for an end to COVID-19. We also gave out a prayer for our families to pray daily.

“I feel that being rooted in prayer guides my decision making. My faith helps me to know that, no matter what happens, God will lead us through this time.”
 

(For more information about the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove, visit www.stpaulhermitage.org.)

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