As part of their 2014 Fall Break Trip, University Catholic of Nashville, Tennessee visited the Little Sisters of the Poor in St. Louis, Missouri and spent two days working with the elderly alongside the Sisters.
Twelve undergraduate students from Vanderbilt University accompanied by Chaplain Fr. John Sim Baker and UCat Coordinator Ms. Caroline Duffy piled into a bus and drove six hours from Nashville to St. Louis. Two of the students, Matt Cooley and Katie Greaves, lived in St. Louis and served as guides for the trip.
During the breadth of their stay, the students slept at Kenrick Glennon Seminary where they enjoyed morning prayer, Mass, and breakfast with the seminarians every day.
After breakfast, the students drove to northern St. Louis where the Little Sisters of the Poor work and live.
Indeed, the highlight of the trip was working with the residents alongside the Little Sisters. A group of 15-20 residents came down on the first day to make Christmas decorations. Each one paired up with a student and the two would work together for the next couple of hours to make homemade Christmas ornaments. Many of the residents were quite eager for the chance to make decorations and talk to the student they were paired up with. The residents had fascinating stories to share, especially since many of them had been born before World War II. Some talked about their children and their children’s children, while others talked about their own childhood experiences. A few residents opened up about their faith in God.
One lady in particular, M. A.T., a cancer survivor, mentioned how her doctor had said that she might die suddenly at any moment, but then went on to share her incredible joy and her trust in God. She talked about accepting death being near, but still enjoying life to the fullest. Indeed, out of everyone present, young and old alike, she was arguably the happiest person in the room.
The Sisters seem to be catalysts for this kind of joy. They interact with the residents on an intimate, personal level. During the Christmas ornament workshop, the sisters visited every resident present, asking how their life was going, and praising their creations.
Likewise, most of the residents reciprocated the Sisters’ joy. M.C., an elderly gentleman who was very hard-of-hearing, came down to the ornament workshop only after large amounts of persuasion/pleading; however, when the students came by the next day, he immediately perked up and eagerly asked, “What are we making today?”
The Little Sisters are not without their crosses. Under a Health and Human Services Mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act, the Little Sisters of the Poor are required to provide (either directly or indirectly) services such as abortion, contraception, and sterilization that they absolutely cannot support in good conscience. The alternative to submitting to this law would be to pay hefty fines every day. The Sisters are determined to fight this unjust law so they can continue caring for the elderly.