Sisters, carers, residents and their families and friends joined this quadruple celebration. Not only were we enjoying the Feast day celebrations of our Father Benito Menni but this date also marked Sister Luisa’s Diamond Jubilee and two of our carers, Mary and Maria, reaching 25 years of service. An 11 o’clock Mass in the Chapel was followed by a buffet lunch and a presentation to Mary & Maria, given by Sister Isabel.
Father Martin gave the following homily to celebrate the Feast of Saint Benito Menni:
Today we are celebrating the life of not just one person but rather three people who lived at different times. What the lives of these three people share in common is a deep commitment to God and great courage in adversity.
The first person is St George, a Roman soldier, who courageously stood up to protest against torture of Christians by the Romans and died for his beliefs.
The second person is St Benito Menni, the priest who changed the way we treat the mentally ill, and whose feast day we are celebrating today. As we also know he had to stand up courageously several times during his life to defend what he believed in. His last years were overshadowed by hostility not merely from the Church’s enemies but also within the order.
The third person is Sister Luisa. Today we are celebrating her diamond jubilee of consecration as a religious sister in the Congregation of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Like Benedict Menni, Sister Luisa has suffered a stroke and again like St Benito she has carried on living her life courageously despite the consequences of her stroke.
Today is also a day when we can give thanks to God for the wonderful work of the sisters not just here at St Augustine’s but throughout the 26 countries in which they exercise their apostolic ministry providing holistic, compassionate and expert care to the sick and elderly.
I am reminded at this point of the words of Sister María Josefa Recio, co-foundress of the Order with St Benito Menni: “Wherever two of you come together, be as angels on earth, edifying each other and those who may be watching you. Be charitable and patient with the sick, acting as mothers to them.”
Officially just six words summarize the identity of the Sisters in their Hospitaller service: “pray, work, endure, suffer, a love God and silence”.
However I believe there are many others that can be added to these six words which we see and witness ourselves when we come to Saint Augustine’s and watch the sisters at work: How about these twelve words!
Affection, Care, Compassion, Empathy, Hospitality, Listening, Love, Professionalism, Respect, Tenderness, Warmth, and Welcome.
As the Sisters state on their website: “Inspired by our Catholic faith and powered by our kind supporters, we care for people and defend their dignity. Our hospitality demonstrates and encourages empathy, particularly for those who are excluded due to mental illness or disability and a compassion for the excluded. Our hospitality is an attitude of outreach to needy people, without any distinction in terms of race, sex, ideology, religion or social class.”
Although the English Province of Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus specialises in providing residential care to people who are elderly or suffering with dementia, from the moment of its foundation, the Congregation has had among its primary objectives the provision of complete care and acceptance of the sick in its centres.
This is because for the Hospitaller Sisters: “When a human being falls ill, every dimension of his or her being is affected and each one requires an appropriate response”.
This care and acceptance the sisters offer includes, therefore, not only addressing the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of those who are in their care but also having a deeply human attitude towards the sick, offering an excellent quality of treatment and having the greatest respect for the fundamental rights of the person.
The pastoral care offered here at Saint Augustine’s can be summarised as one resident said; “You feel cared for and loved and that is very important. Here they help you. I am not alone. This is like a family.”
This pastoral care is grounded in the Good News of God’s loving and unlimited compassion for the suffering. The way the sisters demonstrate their pastoral care for the residents resonates very well with the story of the Good Samaritan as told by Jesus.
Returning back to St Benedict Menni, the Vatican website carries this message about Benito Menni and Hospitality:
In addition to his total dedication of a life offered entirely to God and to the sick with total generosity, the witness borne by Benedict Menni is offering to the universal Church a model and an example to be followed, particularly by those working in health care.
Humanization and evangelization are challenges to the new millennium. St Benedict Menni recalls to us and enlightens the words of our Lord, “I was sick and you visited me… Come, O blessed of my Father”.
Health care uses the benefits brought by scientific and technological progress, but frequently it is the “heart” which is missing in patient care. Health care is often concerned more with the sickness than the sick, who are often viewed as numbers or clinical cases rather than as brothers and sisters to be cared for and ministered to, as persons made in the image of a suffering God.
As I come to the end of these few words when asked “Why do I do it?” Sister Isabel replied: “I will tell you a story. One elderly resident had very advanced Alzheimer’s. She never spoke. I was in her room one day giving her breakfast. I felt a little bit down, a bit tearful. Suddenly, she looked right at me and said, ‘Thank you’.”
So let us now give thanks again for St George, St Benito Menni and Sister Luisa on this special day for them.
Finally we also give thanks to the Sisters for all they do, have done and will do here at St Augustine’s and who tomorrow, Sunday 24 April 2016, with all the other members of their Congregation throughout the world will be celebrating the canonical establishment of the new Province of SPAIN in the chapel of their Mother House in Madrid.