By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
During the Year of the Priest, the CS&T talks with priests in the varied ministries of the priesthood. Msgr. Thomas J. Duane, 66, is a chaplain with the status of senior priest at St. Mary Manor in Lansdale, Montgomery County.
St. Mary Manor is a nursing and retirement residence that operates under the Archdiocese’s Catholic Health Care Services. It provides long-term nursing care, post-hospital nursing, rehabilitation services and respite care as well as residential and assisted living services for 210 senior citizens.
Ordained a priest for the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 1971, Msgr. Duane is also pastor emeritus of Annunciation B.V.M. Parish in Havertown and resides at St. Stanislaus Parish in Lansdale.
Q. What is your pastoral approach to the newly admitted residents of St. Mary Manor?
A. Philadelphia people especially, I always like to ask them what parish they’re from and how long they’ve lived there and where they lived before they came here.
Everybody here has a story. The only difference between the residents and me is just time.
Q. How do you help families who find it difficult to reconcile the fact that the time has come for their loved ones to move to a retirement residence?
A. I’ve used the image of the manor as a cruise ship. There are a lot of activities: bingo; playing cards, making rosaries; birthday parties and dinners; barbecues during the summertime; beauty shop, barber shop; sing-a-longs; square dancing, line-dancing, field trips.
It’s not just a nursing facility, although there is very good nursing care given here. They’ve tried to make this as homey as possible to prepare people for this part of their life. It’s true that for some people, it’s a tough time because they have to leave what’s so familiar. It’s a stage that’s very, very real.
There’s a life here that I attribute to so many things, but one is the wonderful staff. They really do care for the people. Everybody’s important.
Q. What are your core duties as chaplain of St. Mary Manor?
A. It’s all priestly work. This is just another kind of parish.
I’m at work at 8 a.m. I check to see if there are any new admissions, and anoint any new admissions. It’s a sacrament for the body, the soul and the spirit.
Daily Mass is at 11. Every first Sunday of the month we have the anointing of the sick at Mass; those who couldn’t be at Mass, [I anoint] in their rooms. Everybody is anointed at least once a month.
Every Monday, we have confessions from 10 to quarter of 11. Monday after Mass, we have the Miraculous Medal novena. Tuesday, we pray for priests [in conjunction with the Church’s celebration of] the Year of the Priest. Wednesday, we have exposition from quarter of 9 to quarter of 11, [followed by] Benediction and Mass.
In many ways, I’m very fortunate because I have a captive audience. I don’t have to worry about people missing Mass. Somebody brings them to Mass. If somebody oversleeps, somebody gets them up and brings them over. In some ways, that’s an ideal situation.
At the same time, these are people who have pain and very difficult times in their life; yet, they’re still going.
We also do funerals for people who are buried from St. Mary Manor.
One of the blessings I have here is that six diocesan priests are patients/residents. Most of them concelebrate the 11 o’clock Mass.
Q. What have the residents taught you?
A. Patience. They don’t complain about their limitations; in fact, they almost joke about things they can’t do. Is everybody happy all the time? No. [But for the most part] the way people [have lived] their lives, that’s the way they are at the nursing home, too. I believe that.
Q. What advice do you give to residents who are disheartened that they no longer live in their own home?
A. If you want to follow the Lord, you have to pick up your cross each day. This is real. It’s hard not to be able to do the things you used to do, and the things you really love to do. Yet, at the same time, we have this time – and it’s good time. Some of them read, listen to music, watch television, converse with others and start to see things a little clearer than in the busyness of life where we run from one thing to another and don’t have time to reflect on anything.
Q. What do you hope you have taught the residents?
A. That God loves them. That’s not a pious phrase. It’s the truth. Each one of them has a beauty about them.
Psalm 149: “The Lord delights in His people.” I really challenge them to look at that. What is it that God sees in you that He delights in? If you can believe that God delights in you then you also have to believe that God delights in other people around you. If we could really hold onto that, it would be a whole different way of living, whether it be at St. Mary Manor or any other place in this world.
The Church is with them. We’re all the Church. I have the ministry, but there are other people who are also showing them that they belong to the body of Christ. That’s our mission.
Q. As chaplain, what are your views regarding health care reform as it pertains to the elderly? Specifically, what components for the elderly do you pray will be included in a prospective reform?
A. I would hope that somehow everybody is going to get the proper care – not just those who have a means. In a sense of the dignity of the human person, every person has a right to be taken care of. Rather than just put it in the insurance company’s hands, the government’s hands or anybody else’s hands; the real hands we belong to are God’s hands.
Q. What have you observed in those of whom death was imminent?
A. It’s amazing the courage people have in their final minutes or hours here on earth, but it’s the way they’ve lived their life that they eventually can accept it. We all have to surrender to God. We came in that way and that’s the way we go out.
Q. What do you say to them in those final hours or minutes?
A. It’s going to be a great reunion.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.