Sisters of Charity caring for their elderly sisters

by | Jun 4, 2015 | News

SCNYSisters of Charity of New York continue to attract the interest of the secular press for their approach to caring for their elderly sisters.
See reports from the  Associated Press and even The Jewish Week . The latter writes for a totally different perspective than most of the visitors for FamVin.
The Jewish Week writes…
“How nearly 60 sisters came to live at JHL reveals a great deal about the current finances of their orders, the dwindling number of young Catholic women attracted to the ministry, and the inability of their congregations to sustain past models of caring for aging members. The story is also connected to the evolution of Jewish agencies like JHL, which was created by Reform Jews to serve a Jewish clientele but now cares for 12,000 older adults of all religions, colors and ethnic backgrounds, a matter on which agency leaders pride themselves.

“In fact, the JHL executive responsible for negotiating the arrangement with the three orders, Regina Melly, feels a close personal connection to SCNY.

“JHL’s senior vice president of business development, Melly attended Catholic schools as a child and graduated from the College of Mount St. Vincent, making her role in the arrangement especially gratifying.

“It’s been incredibly inspiring to work with these sisters again. They’re amazing women,” she said, noting that many have worked as educators, social workers and healthcare executives. In addition to forming the backbone of many of the Catholic Church’s institutions, the orders have also been involved in the social battles of the era.

“Melly reached an arrangement with SCNY, by far the largest order represented at JHL, after responding to a request for proposal issued by the order in the spring of 2014, she said, adding that she signed similar contracts with the other two orders soon afterward. SCNY now has 44 sisters living at JHL; the Franciscan Handmaids has six; and the Missionary Sisters has four, with four more to join them this week.

Read the full story in The Jewish Week .
JIM FITZGERALD of the Associated Press writes “Aging Catholic Nuns Get Care at Jewish Nursing Home”

He points out that there are now more sisters over age 90 than under age 60. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University 2009 study found that 80 percent of the nuns in the country were over 60.

For 98-year-old Sister Angela Rooney, it was one of the most jarring moves of her life.

She always thought she would live out her days as she had for decades, in a convent under the time-honored Roman Catholic tradition of younger nuns dutifully caring for their older sisters.

But with few young women choosing religious life, her church superiors were forced to look elsewhere for care, and in the past year have sent Rooney and dozens of other nuns to Jewish Home Lifecare, a geriatric-care complex in the Bronx founded as a nursing home for elderly Jews.

“I wanted my convent, my great big chapel, my Stations of the Cross,” Rooney said. “The very name ‘Jewish Home’ turned me off. … I don’t think anyone came here with a heavier heart than me.”

Rooney and 57 other sisters, ages 73 to 98, have since adjusted nicely to their new accommodations and neighbors, becoming an active part of classes and continuing their ministry with good deeds like holding the hands of dying patients on the hospice floor.

“This is home now,” said 83-year-old Sister Grace Henke. “When we first came, we were fish out of water.”

It’s an unusual situation that reflects a reality of the nation’s Catholic nuns in the 21st century: Fewer young women are devoting their lives to religious orders, and those who are already nuns are aging and facing escalating health care needs.

… The Sisters of Charity of New York has seen its numbers decline from a 1960s peak of 1,350 to 270 today, and no new sisters had joined in the U.S. in 20 years. It was the first order to put out a request for proposals that was answered by the nonprofit Jewish Home Lifecare. Two other orders based in Manhattan, the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary and the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, followed.

Several of the nuns now living at Jewish Home, including retired teachers, social workers and nurses, said they were very happy after some original hesitation.

“We’ve almost all, 95 percent, accepted and acclimated. Those who were resistant have kind of calmed down,” said 92-year-old Sister Rosemarie Bittermann.

“It certainly fit our needs,” said Sister Loretta Theresa Richards, 86. “We can stay together, we have our own little chapel. They went out of their way to find a space for us to have Mass. I have to say it was so nice I was a little reluctant, because I took a vow of poverty.”