Religious Sisters Offer More Compassionate Care to the Elderly
The Carmelites of the Most Sacred Heart will open assisted-living cottages in California.
The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart will celebrate the grand opening of The Rose Gardens at Santa Teresita: A Neighborhood of Care, their first assisted-living cottage for the elderly, on Sept. 8 in Duarte, Calif.
The home is the result of years of planning and reflection on the part of the sisters and represents their best effort to create a wholesome Catholic environment in which the elderly can live out their final years in preparation for entry into eternity.
“Children prepare for entry into school and couples prepare for marriage. Our seniors will soon cross the threshold of death and have the opportunity to enjoy the Beatific Vision. We need to prepare them for that,” said Sister Regina Marie Gorman, vicar general of the Carmelites. “We shouldn’t view our senior years as a time of decay or be in denial about our upcoming death, but instead see this period as a time of ripening and preparing to meet God.”
The cottage is the first of nine to be built on a 12-acre site on the south side of the San Gabriel Mountains. Each floor of the two-story cottage will house 10-13 seniors; when all are built, combined with the sisters’ other facilities, they will serve as many as 314 seniors. The grand opening will be the first opportunity for visitors to tour the cottage; the event will include a procession, a blessing by a priest, welcoming remarks by local officeholders and the opportunity to tour the site.
“Lace up your shoes, as we’re going to knock your socks off,” promised Sister Regina Marie.
The cottages have private rooms (some floor plans can accommodate two people, such as a married couple) that are centered on a single “great room.” The great room has a central hearth and sitting area, a dining area (with additional seats for visiting family members) and areas for playing games, watching television and listening to music. The cottage has its own kitchen, where seniors can help plan and prepare their own meals. As additional cottages are added, the goal is to create a “neighborhood of care.”
Other features of the home will be a wellness and rehabilitation center, a doctors’ building (so one doesn’t have to go out to see a physician), a post office, soda shop, pharmacy, walking trails and a putting green.
The sisters will continue the activities that occur in their other senior facilities. These include a “senior university” to help residents continue to learn and experience new things. The university welcomes outside speakers and also makes time for scrapbooking, arts and crafts and gardening.
Some seniors find themselves without a family to visit them, so the sisters created an adopt-a-grandparent program in which members of the local community are invited to come and develop relationships with the residents. The sisters operate a preschool facility on the site, and the preschoolers are also part of the program. In turn, the seniors may offer to tutor the preschoolers in reading.
For those considering careers in helping the elderly, Santa Teresita offers gerontology internships for nurses and other health-care providers.
The goal is to surround seniors with a caring community. As Sister Regina Marie said, “We want our residents to experience the love and companionship that we all need.”
Valuing each resident is also an important part of the sisters’ philosophy, she continued: “A person may be losing his ability to see, hear or walk, but his ability to love can continue to grow, despite these impediments.”
Also unmistakable about Santa Teresita is its Catholic environment. In addition to many beautiful religious works of art, residents may attend Mass daily, pray the Rosary and join the sisters for their community prayers.
Making time to pray is not only beneficial to the residents, but vital to the work of the sisters themselves. The sisters’ day is centered on the Eucharist, both by attending Mass and in adoration as a community and individuals. They have a day of recollection monthly, which includes making a preparation for their own deaths.
“Not only are we at peace with death — we see it as a joy and honor to help others as they journey into the next life,” said Sister Regina Marie.
The need for facilities such as Santa Teresita is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. Projections are that by the year 2050 one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. The HHS noted, “If residency ratios remain unchanged, the number of persons residing in nursing homes will double or triple by 2030. The number could rise by over 300% for those aged 85 and over.”
While the sisters try to steer clear of politics, they do follow the national debate over health care. They are dedicated to a respect-life policy and strongly oppose calls by some to legalize assisted suicide and active euthanasia. As Sister Regina Marie insisted, “We can’t measure a person’s value and dignity by his or her productivity and ‘cut them out of the budget’ when we deem them useless. It’s a terrifying thought to us that our country could one day come to this.”
Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament — known as “Mother Luisita” — founded the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Mexico in 1921. Persecution in Mexico brought the sisters to Southern California, where they established Santa Teresita as a sanatorium for women with tuberculosis in 1930. They named the sanatorium for St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite who herself succumbed to TB at age 24 in 1897.
Mother Luisita died in 1937, but her community flourished. The sisters’ motherhouse is located in Alhambra, Calif., not far from Santa Teresita. The community has 129 professed sisters, 25 in formation and seven candidates. They practice the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
The sisters combine contemplation and action to deliver an apostolic service to the Church. They also are faithful to the life and charism of Mother Luisita, who was declared “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Unlike many religious communities since Vatican II, the sisters have joyfully maintained the full habit, a traditional prayer life and steadfast loyalty to the magisterium of the Church. Their apostolates include operation of health-care facilities and retreat centers.
In 1955, Santa Teresita became an acute-care general hospital. In 2004, it became a continuum-of-care center, offering both short-term and long-term care for seniors, including independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing.
Today, Santa Teresita is comprised of a 99-bed manor (which will be phased out as new cottages are built and the residents are transitioned to the cottages), which offers skilled nursing, and the 44-bed Bethany Assisted Living Facility. The staff includes 30 sisters, 200 lay employees and 60 volunteers.
The sisters’ work at Santa Teresita is being hailed by many experienced in elder care. Dr. Brian Henderson of the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine observed, “The Carmelite sisters are standing on the horizon of a new and innovative model of gerontological care. Bold, courageous and right on target, this vision is based on the core belief of the dignity of each human person.”
Sister Mary Clare, CEO of Santa Teresita, noted, “The Rose Gardens at Santa Teresita stands at the intersection of our society’s need to re-envision senior care and the passionate commitment of the Carmelite sisters to provide a loving, professional environment that is supportive of families and their cherished elders, that they may live life to the full.”
With the completion of the first cottage, attention is turning to fundraising for the second cottage, which will cost $5 million to complete. Santa Teresita is dependent on donations from benefactors to fund the facility; public assistance for seniors from programs such as the state of California’s Medi-Cal program does not cover the cost of their care.
As Sister Mary Clare emphasized, “There comes a time when the faith embodied in one generation is passed on to the next, when the wisdom of our cherished elders nourishes a new generation. That is what The Rose Gardens is all about, and it is our honor and our privilege to be a part of it.”
Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.
The grand opening will be held Sept. 8 from 11am-2pm at the new cottage, located at 819 Buena Vista, Duarte, Calif., which is a 20-minute drive east of Pasadena.
For information on becoming a benefactor of Santa Teresita, becoming a resident or for other questions, visit Santa-Teresita.org.