Look to the Present with Passion*

I’m standing here at Groves House and surfacing in my memory are snatches of a conversation from some years ago between my wife and Sister Jane Frances Schumacher rsj who was formerly her principal at St Anne’s High School, Adamstown.

Cathie: Sister, you look wonderful! What’s your secret? You really have looked after yourself.

Sr Jane: [With a wink] No dear...the secret, you know, is to try to look after others.

I’m to meet Sr Jane. Spritely and energetic, she belies her 91 years and takes me on a guided tour of Groves House, Cardiff. Run by the Christian Brethren Community, it is a non-denominational nursing home with special services in palliative care and dementia care. I’m introduced to many people, both residents and staff; the warmth of their greeting and the mutual respect between them and Sr Jane is immediately apparent. Obvious too is her pride in, and love of, this ‘house’ in which she has identified a need.

Indicating the foyer walls, she brings two things to my attention: a quote from Corinthians 2, “Christ’s love compels us” and a world map on which are pinpointed the overseas birthplaces (from Zimbabwe to the Philippines) of 28 percent of staff members; a diverse mix of people working towards a common purpose. “The world the way it could be,” remarks Sister.

This place challenges my preconceptions regarding aged care facilities. There is a palpable sense that here, top priority has been given to maintaining the residents’ dignity. I see it in the gentleness of a nurse’s smile, in a striking resident-painted mural, in the many areas where visitors can be met and entertained. Its overall design speaks loudest: wonderful views of bushland sweeping down Elermore Vale and visually integrating ‘Groves House’ with a precious natural environment.

Sr Jane has been coming here for five years. Her sister Heather, and a dear friend also of that name, are residents whom Sister visits.

She has also been conducting what are termed Poetry Therapy sessions, open to all residents. She aims to share her own love of verse with her ‘friends’ starting with humorous pieces and narrative works (Henry Lawson’s “Ballad of the Drover” for instance) that often evoke emotional responses. Sometimes, poems that might engender deeper, more spiritual understandings are read. As she puts it, “Poetry is probably next to prayer.” This is, however, not about the teacher and the taught; Sr Jane regards it as a two-way means of communicating; friends sharing some of their deep inner-richness – a sharing that affirms how essential aesthetic sensibilities are to human wholeness.

For the twelve or so Catholic residents and others who wish to come, Mass is concelebrated monthly by Fathers Gordon and John. Sr Jane organises and assists.

“...the secret, you know, is to try to look after others.” I feel privileged to have seen these words so beautifully transformed into action. “Passion” is intrinsic to this “secret”!

*Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis to all Consecrated People on the Occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life (2014)

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John Murray

John is a member of the Aurora Editorial Team.

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