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March 28, 2019, Cincinnati, Ohio – Sister Ann Ryan, OP, spends her days accompanying the residents of Bayley Village through the “sacred journey” of their lives. Technically retired, she receives a stipend for “work of the heart” that she considers a privilege.
Bayley Village – made up of more than 80 cottages for independent seniors – is the independent living component of Bayley, a continuum of care for seniors that also includes assisted living apartments, memory care, and nursing care facilities. Bayley is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.
Sister Ann began at Bayley in 1999 to serve as the Director of Pastoral Care for the seniors who required at least some care. She served in that position for almost 15 years. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I had such a good team of chaplains to work with.”
Three months after her retirement, Sister Ann was asked to minister in the Bayley Village – to extend Bayley’s pastoral care to all residents. “I feel privileged to be part of their lives, to touch their lives in some way,” Sister Ann said. “You never know what you’ll be called on to do.”
Sister Ann’s ministry can involve anything from visiting new residents to taking Communion to those who can’t get out of their cottages, listening to residents as they share their challenges and difficulties, and helping residents prepare for their funerals. She also, when asked, continues to conduct a quarterly workshop on the mission of Bayley for nurses aides.
“Whatever need there is, they call upon me,” Sister Ann said. When asked how she knows where to go or who to serve, she says, “The Spirit leads me. Sometimes somebody is having a hard time and I listen – it brings light to our spirit when somebody listens to us because it says, ‘I care about you.’”
Sister Ann finds that the residents of Bayley Village are also caring people who form a community. They bring cookies to welcome new neighbors. The women – who are the predominate residents of Bayley Village – gather monthly for a luncheon. Residents often come two hours early for Saturday Mass so they can spend time together.
Along with the camaraderie, Sister Ann also sees pain in the residents, who are sometimes bothered by slight lapses of memory, illness, or pain. “Sometime they become angry or sad,” she said. “I try to tell them that the spirit within can hold us together – or it can break us through loneliness.”
Sometimes the challenges that seniors at Bayley Village endure can draw them together. Sister Ann recalled the residents’ reaction when a woman at Bayley died by suicide. “It taught a lesson to all of us to bring the spirit of life to one another, to care about one another and to bring compassion to one another.”
“You have to have a heart of courage to be elderly today, to be patient with yourself,” Sister Ann said. “They try to be gentle in our world because they see so much stress. It’s the courage of heart and soul that helps you through these difficult days.” She gave the example of a resident who had had polio since his youth and was now in a wheelchair. “He has such a spirit of joy and trust,” Sister Ann said. “His wife also has a spirit of love and giving to be with him every day. They’ve helped one another through those years of marriage.”
Sister Ann sees her ministry with the elderly as a “sacred journey as I listen to the events and experiences in their lives and hear sometimes the joy, the pain, the anxieties and fears of life as we enter into another phase of our lives. I think transition continues until we reach our final resting place and each transition brings fears, anxieties, and joys in our lives.”
Family members and employees have also reached out to Sister Ann. “Sometimes families might call because Mom doesn’t want to go to the health care facility and she really needs some help,” she said. “They call me because they need someone to talk to.” She remembers the son of one of the residents calling from California to talk about the transition he’s going through with divorce and an estranged daughter, and a staff member in her 50s whose husband died in an accident.
Sister Ann said her ministry at Bayley has taught and inspired her. “I’ve learned that we just have to learn to trust that God does take care of us,” though maybe not always the way we want, she said.
Sister Ann has some advice for anyone who is considering the field of pastoral ministry of any kind. “It’s so important to be authentic – to be yourself and to be able to walk with the people that you serve,” she said. “You have to like people, enjoy people, bring your heart with you and open with compassion.” She added that a sense of humor is also important.
Recalling Jesus’ ministry of compassionate healing, she said, “I feel sometimes I help in that healing ministry by listening to their hearts, holding their hands, just listening to them. Pastoral ministry has to be something you want to do to bring that spirit of compassion and joy to people.”