Wide-ranging ministry connects seniors with their parish

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Bob McHugh held the attention of the pre-kindergarten class with an animated and interactive reading of "If You Give a Mouse a Brownie" by Laura Numeroff. He drummed with his hand and asked the children about playing a guitar at the appropriate times in the book.

"That's a good book. I'm going to go home and make some brownies," McHugh said with a chuckle as he finished reading.

He and six other members of the Assumption Parish Senior Ministry, led by senior apostolate coordinator Laura Benson, visited the early learning center at the parish after Mass on Oct. 18. They gave the children high-fives, swayed to music with them, prayed with them and listened to their songs. It was hard to tell who enjoyed it more — the kids or the seniors.

In another classroom, when a toddler hugged one of the seniors, a chorus of "ahhhs" from the visitors filled the room. Laughter erupted when the pre-kindergarteners were asked the identity of a doll that was obviously decked out as Pope Francis. "It's Father Keller," one of the youngsters said, referring to Father Thomas Keller, pastor of the parish.

As she left the room, Josephine Insalaco said to the children, "We love you all. God bless you."

Insalaco later called the visit "absolutely wonderful. It's just a special day for me. I'm 72 and don't have any grandchildren."

McHugh attends the senior ministry gatherings a few times a week. For about a dozen years before that, he was a caregiver for his wife, who died of cancer about 10 months ago. "I missed conversation with people," he said. "It's a friendly group, (we) get along well. It's been a lifesaver for me to get back in circulation you might say."

It's also helped him back into going to daily Mass a few times a week. "It's ideal for me," the 86-year-old said, noting that until recently, members of the group thought he was a decade or so younger.

McHugh, who before his wife became ill was involved with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference and other parish efforts, listed the variety of activities, including the potluck breakfast after the first Friday Mass.

He praised Assumption Parish for reaching out to all age groups and bringing them together. A volunteer from the senior ministry brought him and his wife Communion each week when his wife was ill and they couldn't get out and the parish priests made home visits. The senior ministry also arranged for volunteers to come to the home and clean the gutters on their home and to bring some meals. It was "when I really needed help," McHugh said. "I've really benefited from it."

Agnes and Hubert Reichert, who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at a Mass at the parish this summer, no longer drive but they have received rides from ministry volunteers to the parish adoration chapel and one of the first Friday Masses and potluck breakfasts. Their son set up a home computer so they can watch daily Mass that is livestreamed from Assumption. Agnes Reichert said the ministry also provides reading material. "They're very helpful and very nice," she said, noting that the ministry keeps them connected to the Church.

Lu Westhoff, former administrator of Nazareth Living Center, is one of the members of the senior ministry advisory group. Westhoff said the senior ministry is an extension of the parish community that reaches out to members who built the parish. "It is one way to share with them as they have shared so much with the parish over many years," Westhoff said. "It provides the opportunity to continue spiritual growth, pray with others, providing them with another purpose in life and to learn and share with people like themselves how to age gracefully. God calls us to join in communion and this ministry provides that environment."

Assumption's senior ministry and similar programs at other parishes unite different generations through encouraging volunteers of all ages to serve Christ in the elderly. Assumption's ministry has several components that enhance spiritual growth by connecting seniors with God and the Church; emotional growth by helping seniors connect with others; and physical growth by connecting seniors with services such as exercise classes. It also unites generations through encouraging volunteers of all ages to serve Christ in the elderly.

Some of the efforts, such as homebound services, help seniors who remain in their home; others, such as the 50+ group that toured the early learning center, help them socialize.

Carolyn Jordan said she has benefited from the exercise classes, which she has attended for about three months and already sees improvements in flexibility, endurance, strength and balance. "It's nice to have people with you, sometimes we have breakfast after Mass, a nice movie, religious programs. We look forward to seeing each other," Jordan aid. "We've become like a little family of exercisers."

Jordan's cousin is among a few seniors from outside the parish who have joined the group. 

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