Serving the Aged Lovingly Today ministry helps young women grow in faith

| Katie Scott | January 14, 2016 | 0 Comments
Stacey Jackson, front center, a graduate of Seton School in Manassas, Va., and Amy Endres speak with nursing home resident Kathleen Grace in early July during this summer’s pilot of SALT, a mission program hosted by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. CNS photo/courtesy Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm

Stacey Jackson, front center, a graduate of Seton School in Manassas, Va., and Amy Endres speak with nursing home resident Kathleen Grace in early July during this summer’s pilot of SALT, a mission program hosted by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. CNS photo/courtesy Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm

If you flipped on the television around this time last year, you may have caught a glimpse of Stacey Jackson alongside religious sisters in an episode of “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” a Lifetime network reality series following five women as they discerned the religious life.

Fast-forward a year later and Jackson again is surrounded by religious sisters, but this time off camera. She’s not donning a novice’s habit, but rather an engagement ring and the desire to serve a demographic often forgotten or neglected.

The 27-year-old is spearheading a ministry called Serving the Aged Lovingly Today, or SALT, a weeklong mission program through the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, New York — featured on the television program — that connects young women with the elderly through service.

Grounded in pastoral care, program participants join nursing home residents in their everyday activities and play games and sit, talk and pray with them. After a successful pilot program last summer, four immersion weeks are planned at Carmelite-run nursing homes or assisted-living facilities in 2016: Feb. 29-March 5 in Bayside, New York; June 20-25 in Staten Island, New York; July 18-23 in Fort Thomas, Kentucky; and Aug. 1-6 in Dublin.

Jackson said her road from “The Sisterhood” to engagement and to employment with the Carmelites was unexpectedly fast.

“My spiritual director said God can work quickly and he sure was right,” laughed Jackson, who graduated from Seton School in Manassas, Virginia, and grew up attending St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, Virginia.

Hired by the Carmelites last January, Jackson said the job is a “perfect fit.”

“I’ve long had a passion for serving the elderly. You often go into it thinking you are bringing something for them, but leave thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’ve given me so much.'”

Geared toward college-age women, SALT welcomes participants of all ages and faiths. Young women stay at the convent or nearby while serving at a nursing home. Hourlong enrichment sessions are interspersed throughout the week to give the women tools to guide their interactions. Discussions include compassionate listening, ministering to individuals with dementia and the meaning of pastoral care.

“Pastoral care is different from a social visit,” Jackson said. “It’s dealing with life as it is, not life as it should be. Women are encouraged not to simply chat about the weather or engage in small talk, but if someone opens up about something painful, to sit with them in their pain.

“Some don’t have a lot of visitors to talk to,” she added, and because many residents are near the end of their lives, “they are also more inclined to reflect on the past.”

Though not specifically a discernment program, “it can be a great thing to do as part of discerning because you are getting a sense of the religious life,” Jackson said. During the pilot, it was “amazing to see the ladies’ eyes opening up and see them forming these relationships,” she said. “It was moving on a very deep level.”

Participants are encouraged to stay in touch with the individuals they’ve met, and the Carmelites keep them updated after the week ends.

Ministering to the elderly often is overlooked, even in Catholic service circles, Jackson said.

“Sometimes once the elderly’s physical needs are met, people think their care is finished and neglect their spiritual needs. The Carmelites, however, look at the whole person,” she explained.

With insights earned through the ups and downs of life, the elderly often contain “rich wisdom” that is available to those who take the time to listen, Jackson said. SALT participants learn to be compassionate listeners, and that ability translates into their interactions with parents, friends, strangers and spouses, she said.

“And when you’re talking to a 90-year-old woman who has a deep peace about things, it helps you stop worrying about things in life that are not a big deal,” Jackson said. “They put life in perspective, and that is an amazing gift.”

Scott is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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Category: From Age to Age