Fifth of a series
On any given week, the Nursing Home Ministry of Holy Rosary and Nativity of Our Blessed Lady parish in the Bronx graces the aged with the gift of time—times nine.
Volunteers, under the direction of Father Anthony Pleho, the parish’s nursing home chaplain, visit nine Bronx nursing homes over a span of four days—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“Once upon a time, each of these seniors may or may not have been active as a parishioner in a church,” said Father Pleho, 66, who has been assigned to the ministry since 2013. “Sometimes they say to me when I’m visiting them at bedside that they can’t get there anymore.”
Through the special outreach that comes to them they have “an opportunity to get there,” Father Pleho added.
Breaking it down, the chaplain said, “You have nine separate, small parish communities. And they all have their unique charism.” He cited as an example one of the facilities, Amber Court, which is actually an assisted senior living facility.
The nine Bronx sites visited by the parish nursing home ministry are Amber Court Assisted Living & Home Care, Eastchester Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, East Haven Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Gold Crest Care Center, Kings Harbor Manor Center, Kings Harbor Multicare Center, Kings Harbor Pavilion Center, and Morris Park Rehabilitation & Nursing Center and Workmen’s Circle Multicare Center.
The schedule varies but the ministry is based on the needs of a particular site and the number of parish nursing home volunteers available. For example, there could be either a daily Mass at one site and a Holy Communion service in a common room at two other sites on a particular day or, on another day, the distribution of Holy Communion individually in three separate buildings on a floor-by-floor basis.
Robert D’Alessandro, 62, has been coordinator of the parish nursing home ministry since April.
The parish nursing home ministry volunteers range in age from 30 to over 80, he said. There are 20 on the roster, 12 of whom are active on a weekly basis.
D’Alessandro said he is delighted by the enthusiastic greeting the church group receives from residents.
“When you walk into a room, and you see the smile on their face, you hear people saying, ‘Oh, they’re here, they’re here!’ and you see the response that you get, it makes you feel really good that you’re doing a good deed for these people,” D’Alessandro said.
“Some of these people are very unfortunate. They’re in these nursing homes for a very long time and may not have anyone visiting them. They look forward to that day where they can come downstairs to a Mass or a Communion service and be in the presence of God,” D’Alessandro said, “to seeing a person or persons that come once a week” who was not familiar to them and “who has now become a familiar face.”
Some seniors may be staying in the nursing home only temporarily while receiving rehabilitation services after a hospitalization. For some others, it will be their final earthly home.
Father Pleho has a simple but sincere message to the residents: “That there is a presence of God available to them, and also to return a blessing to them for who they were and what they were about when they were younger.”
At the conclusion of the parish nursing home ministry team’s visit, the chaplain said he hopes that the seniors have had “a moment of peace, an encounter with God” and that they will experience “a peaceful night and a peaceful day.”
Among the many volunteers is Allen Sullivan, 79, who has been a member of the ministry for 16 years.
“It’s rewarding work,” he said in describing the outreach as an exercise in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “It’s a privilege to be able to distribute Communion,” Sullivan said.
“The people need it,” he said, adding their reactions vary. “Some people are very happy to receive it, some people are very matter-of-fact—it’s like being in church.”
When distributing Holy Communion, the volunteers recite the requisite prayers in either English or Spanish. Sullivan said he reiterates to communicants, “That’s Jesus you have there” and gently instructs them to “visit with Him for a little while.”
Residents are also asked if they want to see a priest. From time to time rosaries are distributed. “I’ve taught some people how to pray the Rosary,” Sullivan added.
Additionally, “we pray with some people who aren’t able to receive Communion for whatever reason” and with non-Catholics as well.
A nursing home Mass, followed by a luncheon and raffle, is celebrated by Father Pleho in the parish hall of Holy Rosary and Nativity of Our Blessed Lady each June. It draws between 125 and 150 residents and their caregivers combined. The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is also conferred at the liturgy. “It gives them a nice day out, away from the nursing home,” D’Alessandro said.
Father Dennis Williams, pastor of Holy Rosary and Nativity of Our Blessed Lady, commends the chaplain and lay faithful for their commitment to the ministry. “I’m extremely grateful to Father Pleho and to the volunteers here,” he said. “They’re like the objectives of the universal call to holiness of St. John Paul II and Opus Dei’s St. Josemaría Escrivá. They’re making Christ present in the world.”