Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm

Jan. 13-19, 2005
Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm

UTICA –– It is their love and devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux and the vision of their foundress, Mother M. Angeline Teresa, O. Carm, that inspired the six Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm working at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, to choose this particular order of religious life. The six are the only members of the Carmelite Order in the Syracuse Diocese. It is their calling to respond with faith, courage and love to the healing ministry of Christ.

The Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm is a congregation founded in 1929 that is devoted to the care of the elderly. Mother Angeline had a vision of creating home-like atmospheres for the elderly of all levels of financial need within an environment that abounds with respect, dignity and hospitality. Part of their mission statement declares, “Our apostolate is not only to staff and operate up-to-date homes for the aged, but as religious, it is to bring Christ to every person under our care. Bringing Christ means giving them His compassion, His interest, His loving care, His warmth morning, noon and night. It means inspiring the lay people who work with us to give the same type of loving care.”

Sister Patricia Markey, O. Carm., FNP, has ministered to the residents of St. Joseph’s Nursing Home for nine years. In her 48 years as a Carmelite nun, she has worked in nursing homes in Chicago, Detroit, Massachusetts, Cincinnati and New York City. She said that the most important part of the Carmelite life is prayer. “I have a great devotion to St. Therese,” said Sister Patricia. “As a young girl, I studied her life, but I didn’t know at that time that she was a Carmelite. I met the Carmelite Sisters while in college and developed an interest in this particular order. And I loved nursing from the very beginning.” Sister Robert Anthony Didas, O. Carm., is a certified occupational therapist and has been the activities director at the nursing home for eight years. Before coming to St. Joseph’s, Sister Robert spent 22 years ministering in nursing homes in New Hampshire. When asked why she joined the Carmelites, she replied, “For the love of God and to bring the residents closer to God. Also, I love working with the elderly. When people come to a nursing home, this is their last stop,” she said. “Their next stop is heaven. We try to make it more peaceful for them.”

In addition to nursing and activity directors, the Carmelite Sisters also work as dietitians, personnel directors, social service workers, physical therapists, pastoral ministers, bookkeepers and administrators. “People who would consider being a Carmelite nun would have to be patient, prayerful, enjoy working with the elderly, be able to make sacrifices and have a cheerful spirit,” said Sister Robert. Sister Robert said that she chose the order because of her devotion to St. Therese. “I wanted to be a Carmelite because of St. Therese’s simplicity and St. Theresa of Avila who had a deep contemplative prayer life,” she said. St. Theresa of Avila entered the Carmelite convent in 1536. In 1557 she decided to rule out anything from her life that would withdraw her from the Lord in any way. She started a life of deep interior prayer.

Sister Mary Vianney, O. Carm., also chose the Carmelite Order in order to lead a simple, prayerful life. “I like to pray,” she said. “I heard a lot about the Carmelite cloister. They pray a lot. Even as a young girl, I wanted to do something for all people. I could pray for all people –– especially young people. I watch the news and read the paper to see what’s going on. I can’t do anything for the people I read about except pray.” Sister Mary Vianney said she also enjoys working with the elderly. The Sisters are on hand to pray the rosary when people are dying. “We try to come any time, night or day. Any time we are needed to sit and pray with the dying.”

Sister Patricia said that Carmelite spirituality should carry over into the care of the elderly. The role of the sisters at the nursing home is to ease the anguish of death and help residents and family accept the reality of it. “We are able to show our love of God in our daily contact with the aged,” said Sister Patricia. “Unless we can give of ourselves, this would only be a job.”

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