Several Precious Blood Companions (lay associates) volunteer at a senior living center to help with a weekly Mass that is the highlight of the week for many of the residents. Reaching out to the sick and elderly is one manifestation of Precious Blood spirituality.
Each Tuesday around 2 p.m., Companion Eileen Weber sits down at the piano in the community room at Briarwood Village, a senior care complex in
Coldwater, Ohio. Weber starts with a classical piece, perhaps Beethoven or Bach, then moves on to popular tunes like “Goodnight, Irene,” and “Oh, My Papa.”
“Pretty soon, everybody is singing along,” Weber said.
While she is playing, people are gathering for the weekly Mass, as many as the room can hold. At the end of the prelude of music, Weber plays “On this Day, Oh Beautiful Mother.” It’s a signal to all that the Mass is about to begin.
Weber, along with Companions Liz Schindler and Jim Large, are part of a crew of volunteers that help at the weekly Mass. “You can tell that for many of them, it’s not just another activity,” Large said. “It’s meaningful that they can be a part of the Mass.”
Schindler, Large and other volunteers help Briarwood residents who need extra assistance get to the community room, and arrange rows of wheelchairs and walkers so that people can see and hear the celebrant. Residents suffering from dementia are helped to the front row, where they join in the prayers and singing with just a little prompting.
“A lot of them weren’t able to come to Mass for a long time, before they came to live here,” Schindler said. “For them to be able to come to Mass every week is wonderful.”
Schindler has seen for herself how much it means. She began volunteering 17 years ago, when her father was a Briarwood resident. After he died,
Schindler stayed on, mainly to help with the singing. “All at once, I was involved,” she said. “Then there was a time when Ethel Boeckman (a sister of C.PP.S. Frs. Harold and Otto Diller), who coordinated the team of volunteers, turned to me and said, ‘You’re taking over, Liz.’ You didn’t say no to Ethel.”
So Schindler took over, scheduling teams of volunteers, seven or eight per week, most of them from Holy Trinity Parish in Coldwater. She also recruited new ones, including Large, who joined the team five years ago, after he retired. Schindler, still a volunteer, stepped down as coordinator two years ago, and when she did, Large noted, “It took a four-person committee to replace her.”
It’s a full afternoon for the volunteers, who help residents get to Mass, help them back to their rooms after Mass, and also distribute communion to those who weren’t able to participate. “But you feel so good when you go home,” Schindler said.
The volunteers have learned their way around the large complex, gotten to know the residents, and learned how to approach the reluctant with patience.
“We have at least two residents in one hall who say, ‘No, I don’t want to go today,’” Large said. “But we still go to their rooms and ask. They always say no. Then 10 minutes later, when we’re gathering people, the ones who didn’t want to come are right in the mix.”
During Mass, the volunteers are always watching the residents, to make sure everyone is safe and secure in the community room. “If someone in a wheelchair drops something on the floor, I watch for that, because the impulse for them is to lean forward to pick it up, and that’s when they could fall out of their chair,” Schindler said. “Ethel taught me that.”
Volunteers also help set up the room for Mass, and put everything away after it’s over. Schindler praised the priests from Holy Trinity and other local parishes, who take time to preside at Mass and to offer the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick.
Everybody together—the volunteers, the residents, the priest—make a prayerful, powerful statement of faith each week at Briarwood.
“Some of the people who are here have memory issues, and once you take them back to their room, they may not remember that they’ve been to Mass,” Schindler said. “But when they’re at Mass, they’re fully engaged.”