Last night, we had the privilege of visiting a local Catholic nursing home, just 15 minutes walking distance from the seminary. I’ve been in quite a few different and very fine nursings homes in the United States, including my service in an Alzheimer’s care facility back at the seminary during the last school year. Taking these experiences into mind, I had certain expectations, but those expectations were quickly thrown out the window.
This particular nursing home, run by around 25 religious sisters and many support staff, houses approximately 120 residents. During our tour and visit with the staff and residents, we were greeted with open arms and had some terrific conversations. As the tour progressed, I was struck by the facilities: when one thinks of a nursing home, images of a quasi-hospital environment come to mind, one that is often very stark. Not so here: it felt like home; it didn’t feel like a nursing home. Going through the different sitting rooms and dining areas, I noticed the personal touch given by the sisters, as well as the comfortable environment in which the residents were able to live, with quality furnishings, always-available amenities, and pleasant surroundings. And as you can see in the pictures below, the chapel is bigger than many churches I have visited!
Does this mean that nursing homes in the United States are somehow deficient? Certainly not! We can provide excellent care to our seniors during these crucial years of their lives. There is, however, a difference in the way the two cultures approach the issue of senior care, I think: I felt as if the residents here in Mexico were much more integrated into life, rather than what can sometimes be see as being set aside. This nursing home, or asilo de anciano, even treated us to a dance that some of the residents had been rehearsing for an upcoming fiesta! It was truly an active and lively place! Some moments with residents that will remain with me for a long time:
- Alicia, who was very interested in where we were from and hearing about our background and work in the United States. A wonderful lady with a great sense of humor!
- Refugia, who, according to the sister, is currently 117 years old (even checked with my professor to make sure I heard her correctly). While I do not doubt the veracity of her claim, the current verifiably oldest living person is 116. Whether or not the records are incorrect or Refugia simply does not have the records any longer does not matter: this wonderful lady was clearly full of life and blessed us with her presence!
- Nina, with whom I had the longest conversation, all in Spanish of course (God bless her for her patience with my burgeoning Spanish skills). She had actually lived in the United States for many years, and had some comforting words as I continue to learn Spanish: “When I came to the U.S., I knew three words: hello, thank you, and hamburger. If I can learn English, then you will learn Spanish just fine. You will be a terrific priest!”
When we were done visiting residents, the staff did what any Mexican family would do when you are invited to their home: they fed us; in this case, some delicious deserts and cold drinks.
I am so thankful for my time at the nursing home. These sisters and residents have been a true blessing, and have provided a wonderful example of charity, compassion, and faith, an example that will help to inform and shape my future ministry. I truly think that both cultures can learn something from each other when it comes to senior care, combining the quality of medical care with the ideal that seniors are valuable, contributing members of society; in fact, I have already seen this integration take place in many places in the United States.
We must remember that it is our duty as Christians to uphold the dignity of all persons. That means remembering their worth and treating them as such, never forgetting the inherent dignity that each individual has at every stage of life. Please keep the residents, staff, and sisters in your prayers!
I have attached a few photos; there aren’t many since we were busy talking, and I haven’t included any with residents due to the need to preserve privacy.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!