Roman Catholic tradition has younger nuns caring for their older sisters, but with fewer young women devoting their lives to the religious order, church superiors have been forced to seek alternative health care for the elderly nuns. As a result, 58 sisters, aged 73 to 98, have taken residence at the Jewish Home Lifecare complex in Riverdale.
The elderly sisters have made themselves comfortable in their new accommodations, despite initial hesitation, according to the report. They are actively involved in classes and continue their ministry with acts of service such as holding the hands of dying hospice patients. At the nursing home they stay together and have taken over a few floors, according to The New York Times. The nuns include retired teachers, social workers and nurses.
“This is home now,” said 83-year-old Sister Grace Henke. “When we first came, we were fish out of water.”
Sister Angela Rooney, 98, said at first, “I wanted my convent, my great big chapel, my Stations of the Cross. The very name `Jewish Home’ turned me off. … I don’t think anyone came here with a heavier heart than me.”
The nursing home’s Jewish heritage remains noticeable, with a resident rabbi and kosher meals.
Sister Loretta Theresa Richards, 86, said, “I miss the bacon,” while Sister Maria Goretti Mannix, 83, added, “I notice that we never get ham or pork chops. The food is good, though.”
“It certainly fits our needs,” Richards said about the Jewish Home. “We can stay together, we have our own little chapel. They went out of their way to find a space for us to have Mass. I have to say it was so nice I was a little reluctant, because I took a vow of poverty.”
“We’ve almost all, 95 percent, accepted and acclimated. Those who were resistant have kind of calmed down,” said 92-year-old Sister Rosemarie Bittermann.
More nuns are now over the age of 90 than under 60, Mary Gautier, a researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University told NBC. A 2009 study conducted by the center found that 80 percent of U.S. nuns were over 60.
Robin Eggert, president of the Realm consulting group, which has worked with several nuns’ orders, said the Roman Catholic model of caring for older sisters is “no longer sustainable.” Eggert explained that partnering with outside organizations offering care such as skilled nursing and assisted living is not new for womens’ religious orders but, he said, “We’ve never done Jewish before.”