First Day of Ministry

(I realize this post was meant for Friday, however my lack of internet access requires me to delay my posts a bit. My apologies for being a day late!)

Today was my first day at our ministry: Villa de Merillac. I’ve never been a fan of retirement homes; I’ve watched two grandparents die in assisted living spaces. However I recognize that ministry opportunities during formation are a chance to “grow and stretch oneself,” so I decided to try something that would make me feel a little uncomfortable.

Our ministry is one day a week, much different than my experience in Milwaukee at St. Ben’s. Every Friday we drive about a half hour to get to the retirement community in Pittsburgh and we are present with the community until 3PMish. Again…not feeling comfortable in those places, I drove this morning with a sense of anxiety about what I might experience upon arrival.

Most of the day was spent in orientation: understanding the schedule at the home, discussing safety procedures and patient’s rights, and also getting a thorough tour. We met the visiting pastor, originally from Tanzania, who comes every Friday to celebrate Mass for the residents.

We learned that much of our time at the home will be spent helping with different liturgical rites. Currently the rosary is recited along to a pre-recorded CD that the residents follow (I imagined it to be Martin Sheen’s voice…not sure why.) We will take over the leading of the rosary, as well as helping in different roles during the Mass. The director asked if anyone sang and/or played guitar – everyone turned their head towards me. So part of my time each Friday will be directing music and playing…something I have learned to love.

Along with these acts, they’ve started having devotionals on Fridays. There will be a Holy Hour (without the Benediction…even though I volunteered) one day, a litany to the Blessed Virgin, and a few other things. We’ve been asked for input on what we think should be included… a sign that told me that we were being incorporated into their program.

Along with these things, there was the visiting with the guests. This was the part of the ministry that might cause me to freak out. Even as we wheeled guests down to the recreation room for the singer (I’ll talk about the singer in a minute), I was grappling for something to say to people. Usually I can talk to anyone about anything…the first round of visits reminded me I wasn’t as talkative as I liked to think!

The true ice-breaker for me was the signer that came in for entertainment. We sat with the residents and watched a guy belt out tunes by Tony Bennett, Colt Porter, Dean Martin, etc. And just to round things out, he made sure to include the “Beer Barrel Polka” and the “Too Fat Polka.” The absurdity of the event was too much to stay quiet about. As we took the residents back, I joked at how I was going to sing, but we ran out of time!

By the end of the day, I felt more comfortable about being there. Parts of the ministry still will shake me up, however I felt more love than anything else having been there, and the support of my brothers (some of whom have experience in this type of ministry) kept me from crying or screaming. However I remember my reservation at working with the homeless, and how those fears were soon dissipated. I’m sure as I continue to grow in this ministry I’ll experience the same.

The only other great revelation I have for today: if I am ever required to reside in an assisted living space, please don’t take me to see someone doing covers of Rick Ross, Jodeci, or even Lady Gaga. Just buy me an iPod with plenty of music…I promise, that will be plenty to keep me entertained!

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1 Response to First Day of Ministry

Qualis Rex
August 7, 2009 at 11:12 PM

Br Vito, that is an amazing story. I was raised by my Grandmother (the only living grandparent I had growing up). After the months of watching her slowly die, I couldn't be around elderly people for a good 5 years. It was just too difficult for me. But a couple years ago I volunteered at a "Senior Day Care" a few hours a week. Not only did it "cure" me, but I was astounded at how good they made me feel. I really wasn't impressed with the salaried employees there, but that's another story.

Best of luck in this ministry. I'm sure God handed you this one for a reason.