On Mission initiative addresses needs of the area's elderly

Saturday, May 05, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Theresa Sullivan Correspondent

Mary Dressman lived in her Mount Lebanon home for more than a half-century, raising eight children after her husband passed away. Life changed when she moved into a senior living community, but she embraced it as a new opportunity.

“I love it,” said Dressman, 94, of her place at Vincentian Marian Manor in Green Tree. “I can go to Mass and Stations of the Cross. I hadn’t been able to do that before because I couldn’t drive myself.”

Caring for the growing number of elderly parishioners and priests is a top priority of Bishop David Zubik. The On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative is intended to address their physical, spiritual and social needs, whether they are in their own home or a health care facility.

Vincentian Collaborative System, the largest Catholic senior community in Allegheny County, offers a continuum of care from independent living and personal care to short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing. Mass is celebrated daily, and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the Sisters of the Holy Spirit pray with the faithful.

“Our residents don’t feel like they’re in a home, they feel like they are home,” said Nick Vizzoca, president and CEO of Vincentian.

“The staff and volunteers are wonderful,” said Marian Manor resident Renada Duncombe, 90. “God’s presence is here.”

Added Dom King, 83, who was rehabbing, “It’s a blessing to be here. I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Holy Spirit Sister Mary Richard Mehelich, 94, sees people with serious health problems accept their suffering while trying to stay busy.

“There’s activity going on all the time,” she said. “So much of what happens here represents the Lord.”

Many Catholics live in health facilities that have no affiliation with the Catholic Church. On Mission will ensure they are ministered to as well.

Spiritual care and comfort already are provided to residents, patients and their families at 140 nursing homes and 41 hospitals across the diocese. Priest chaplains offer the sacraments of baptism, holy Communion, confession and anointing of the sick, as well as prayers, spiritual reading and conversation. The parish chaplains assigned as part of On Mission will build on this ministry.

Specialized attention to elderly priests is part of this outreach. As diocesan delegate for retired priests, Father Leroy DiPietro regularly visits his brother priests who are receiving care. He has heard some of them try to argue with God, reasoning that if they had better health they could continue to serve others.

“To them, Christ says, ‘I want you to keep me company at the cross with my mother and St. John,’” Father DiPietro said. “This can be just as fruitful as the years of service that came before.”

The blessing of the sick by ministers of the church is an ancient custom, with origins in the practice of Christ and his apostles. While sacramental anointing is reserved to priests, lay ministers offer support in many other ways.

At St. Sebastian Parish in Ross Township, social services minister Mary Jo Robbins and the Ladies of Charity visit homebound parishioners and those in nursing facilities and hospitals.

“Just because they are not here doesn’t mean they are forgotten,” Robbins said. Volunteers bring them Communion each Sunday, and offer Communion services with pre-consecrated hosts at three local senior living apartments.

The parish also helps older parishioners continue to attend Mass and parish events. A new handicap-access parking lot has a ramp that leads to new automated doors. Front pews are reserved for the elderly.

“We might not be able to turn around the ship of life for them,” Deacon Rick Cessar said, “but we can certainly help elderly parishioners know that they are not alone — we are here for them.” 

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