Putting the Catholic in Caregiving
The Catholic way to care for the elderly and sick.
In the Seattle area, Bill and Monica Dodds have been regularly involved in writing a family column for a number of Catholic publications for close to two decades. Due to Monica’s years of experience in the area of senior care, their articles often touch on the topic of taking care of the sick or the elderly.
In 2004, the Dodds hoped to share their insights on Catholic care with others who were interested.
They thought they would simply add their articles and findings to a wealth of information already out there. In their search, mainly via the Internet, the Dodds didn’t find much about caregiving from a Catholic perspective.
“Monica and I were somewhat shocked,” recalls Bill. “While there was a lot of info out there on caregiving in general, we did not find one organization that specifically dealt with the concerns and issues surrounding Catholic caregivers. We did not set out to start our own apostolate on this topic, but that is what ended up happening.”
In 2004 the couple launched Your Aging Parent (YourAgingParent.com). This evolved into the formation of their own nonprofit group, Friends of St. John the Caregiver (FSJC.org), a year later.
“From the cross, so close to death, Our Lord asks St. John the Apostle to take care of his mother in her later years,” explains Bill. “In that same way, today, the Lord is asking others to be caregivers in their own parishes to those who are in need due to poor health, a chronic condition or the frailty of age.”
At last count, Friends of St. John the Caregiver numbers around 350 members and is in 40 states and 11 countries. The group has no meetings, no dues or costs. The only obligation of its members is the commitment to pray for those giving care and those receiving care. Bill notes that members appreciate knowing they’re not alone in their daily care of loved ones.
The Dodds stress a number of principles that make caregiving Catholic in a pamphlet they offer on Catholic caregiving. First, caregiving is a vocation, a calling from God: “It’s a mission and a role a caregiver accepts in the name of love, and it is Love itself who accompanies both the caregiver and the care-receiver on this journey.”
Second, the Dodds point out that caregiving is pro-life; the culture of life includes providing care for a loved one who is sick, elderly or frail.
Finally, the couple shares that Catholic caregiving is based on love and respect: “Whether you are caring for an aging parent or another older family member, the bond between you and your loved one is like no other. You are now being given the opportunity to honor your father and mother, to love your spouse or care for your child or friend in a new, different and demanding way.”
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is clear when it comes to the care of aging parents. “Adult children of elderly parents are asked to care for them with a generous heart,” it states under its chapter on the Fourth Commandment.
As the section goes on to explain, the care of the elderly can be a blessing for all involved: “Not only do adult children help their parents, but many of the elderly parents also help their adult children by their continuing love, their example and the benefit of their lifetime experience.”
In Southington, Conn., Sister Marie Roccapriore knows well these teachings on the care of the sick and elderly. For more than 60 years as a sister with the Religious Teachers of St. Lucy Filippini, she has taken on the care of the sick and elderly as a special ministry of her own.
“I believe this interest stems from my own personal life with pain and illness and being a caregiver to my own mom until her death at age 97,” Sister Marie shares.
“I became attuned to caring for the sick and elderly and, in particular, the power and grace of the anointing of the sick,” says Sister Marie, who has written two books on the pastoral care of the sick and elderly.
“Anyone who has a serious illness, physical, mental or emotional, is encouraged to receive this sacrament,” Sister Marie notes. “By serious, we mean that the condition puts a serious strain on one’s life and interrupts the life of the individual.”
In all of her years as a caregiver in hospitals and nursing homes, she has witnessed the despair and sense of hopelessness that the sick and elderly can experience due to pain and suffering.
“It becomes easy to doubt God’s loving care for us. The sacrament of the anointing empowers us with the strength to accept and surrender our heavy burdens and sometimes in the healing of the body, such as the remission of a physical malady, cure of an addiction or recovery from an illness.”
It’s the duty of the whole parish to take care of their suffering members, says Sister Marie, whose implementation ideas are outlined in Caring for the Sick and Elderly, a Parish Guide (2003, Twenty-Third Publications).
“At times, the assumption seems to be that it is not necessary to offer other forms of service to the sick and elderly parishioners (besides the sacraments) because relatives and friends supply that need,” she writes.
“Through a special ministry of care, a parish is able to respond to the needs of its shut-ins and make the healing power of Christ visible to them.”
Eddie O’Neill writes
from Green Bay, Wisconsin.