Some 20 frontline workers and residents at an archdiocesan care facility rolled up their sleeves Tuesday, Jan. 5 to receive their first round of COVID vaccinations.

“I can’t talk about it without crying,” said Jean Calvarese-Donovan, administrator of Divine Providence Village (DPV), a Springfield-based intermediate care facility for adult women with intellectual disabilities.

For those who live and work at DPV, part of archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS), “this was a moment 10 months in the making,” said Calvarese-Donovan. “There were tears of joy and prayers of thanks.”


Those tears began flowing earlier in the day, when DGDP nursing director Angela Babcock was notified the 1,000 doses for which she had applied would be delivered that morning.

“We knew we were getting them, but they were delayed because of the holiday,” said Calvarese-Donovan. “We saw the UPS truck arrive, and we ran out to it.”

A few hours later, staff and clients gathered for their first jab of the Moderna vaccine, a two-dose regimen spanning 28 days that does not use abortion-derived cell lines in its production.

First up was health care coordinator and registered nurse Alicia Ryan, who wept in relief as Babcock administered the shot.

Earlier in the pandemic, Ryan had spent six weeks away from her children to protect them and her patients from the disease, which to date has infected 86.8 million and killed 1.8 million.

“It’s surreal, because it felt like (the vaccine) would never happen, and not within the year,” said Ryan. “It’s hope. We lost a lot to COVID, and this feels like we finally have a defense, and beginning of the end.”

Fellow health care coordinator Mimi Meeder agreed.

“Up to this point, we went through a war without ammunition,” she said.

Meeder urged vaccination skeptics and opponents to “know the science” behind “our best defense” against COVID.

Prior to the rollout, DGDP’s medical director, Dr. Brian Friedrich, provided staff with a detailed video briefing on the development of the vaccine, which was granted emergency use authorization by the FDA Dec. 18.

Francis Swiacki, executive director of CSS’s developmental programs, said his staff will not be required but rather “strongly encouraged” to receive the vaccine.

“We’ve gone through a comprehensive education process,” he said, noting that employees had “given of themselves daily” and made “extraordinary sacrifices” to care for clients.

“They treat our individuals as family in every sense of the word,” said Swiacki.

In addition to DPV staff and residents, the vaccinations will be distributed at CSS’s remaining campuses within the Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence (DGDP), which offer a continuum of care through community, campus-based and family living arrangements, in-home supports, respite care and day programs.

Also on the roster for doses are staff and residents of St. Edmond’s Home for Children in Rosemont, a CSS intermediate care facility for children aged six weeks to 21 years who are affected by a range of profound physical and intellectual disabilities.

Archdiocesan secretary for Catholic Human Services James Amato said the vaccines are a fitting follow-up to Christmas — and a welcome start to 2021.

“The Advent and Christmas seasons always give rise to hope in the New Year,” he said, adding that “through prayer, staff mission commitment and excellent partnerships with government … we are truly turning a corner in these challenging times.”