Holy Week Focus: Ceremony Celebrates the Journey of St. Paul Residents

Paul Keggington

March 28, 2013

Celebrating the Lord’s Passion this Holy Week, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity share the article ‘Ceremony Celebrates the Journey of St. Paul Residents’ written by Jean Peerenboom for The Compass expressing how residents at Community-sponsored St. Paul Elder Services, Kaukauna, WI are honored in both life and death. Also highlighted are Stations of the Cross found in the Immaculate Conception Convent, Yuma, AZ. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity have served in this parish for over 75 years. Photojournalist Priscilla Thomas documents all images.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. You make me lie down in green pastures, leading me beside still waters…”

The staff of St. Paul Elder Services wants to honor their residents in both life and death. When a resident passes he or she is wrapped in a special quilt and escorted to the front door by staff, residents and family. The ceremony begins with a recitation of Psalm 23:

“Lord, you are my shepherd, I shall not want. Let us go in the Peace of the Lord.”

After the psalm, everyone processes to the door and await the hearse. There is a hymn, often ‘Amazing Grace, ‘ and a final blessing.

“We wrap the person with love and prayers,” said Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Delores Wisnicky, director of mission and spiritual care at the facility.

The ceremony was developed by Sister Delores’ predecessor, Sister Dorothy Wagner. “My boss (Jim Fett) read about it,” Sister Wagner said. “It was something the Alexian Brothers were doing.”

She developed a similar ceremony for St. Paul’s.

“We don’t want to deny death,” she said. “It’s part of life. We celebrate that the person is going on to a joyful life in heaven.”

The practice started quietly, she said. “We let people know about it. We talked with funeral directors, and we put in residents’ care plans.”

The ceremony struck a chord with staff, residents and families. In 2006, the staff made and dedicated a departure quilt to place over the body for the person’s final good-bye. It replaced an old church pall.

It is made up of cross-stitched panels with Scripture verses or other things that represent life and faith. One panel shows Jesus, the shepherd, with the words “Come to Me.” In the center of the quilt is a cross and a heart. It was professionally put together.

Now, it is used every time a person dies, said Sister Delores. “It’s our way of saying good-bye. They walked with us and we want to walk with them one more time. It’s part of our hospitality to show love for the person one last time. It is hospitality to the family.”

Before the procession begins, an announcement is made and the staff is invited to come to the person’s room. Sometimes a staff member leads the service, other times it may be a nurse or someone from hospice who was involved in the person’s final care.

“We form a circle of love around the person. It’s a wonderful way to commend them to God,” she said.

“What inspired me most,” said Sister Delores, “was an incident during one of our earliest times. The family of the resident was present and they invited the resident’s roommate to participate in the procession.

“At the end, in the loudest voice, the roommate announced, ‘That’s what I want to do when I die.’ That was affirming for me,” she said.

This is something done at many facilities, Sister Delores said. “Different facilities do different things. This departure quilt is our beautiful way to send them back to the Lord God. It is a helpful step for the family as they begin grieving.”

It’s also a way for the staff to have closure and grieve as well.

After “Amazing Grace,” all the participants raise their hand in blessing and recite: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

And, the body begins its journey to the funeral home; the staff quietly closes the door and returns to work.

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