N.Y. Times: Aging Nuns Forced to Abandon Convent for Assisted Living

As fewer young women join the ranks of Roman Catholic nuns, convents are effectively becoming “old age homes”—only without the services found in residential care homes. In some cases, their aging inhabitants are being forced to leave their communities in order to get assistance, says the New York Times’ latest The New Old Age blog post, but in others, it may be possible to form partnerships with senior living providers to deliver care services to the aging sisters.

There [were] years of deliberation and consultation in the decision to disperse this local order of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities to nearby facilities for the elderly. For that the nuns are grateful. But they are not unmarked by the disruption.

As far back as 2004, with their ranks aging and virtually no infusion of young women into the religious life, the Hastings congregation merged with other Sisters of Saint Francis congregations from Syracuse and Williamsville, in upstate New York. They hoped to pool their resources to care for a wave of aged and increasingly infirm nuns.

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While their combined numbers increased as a result of the mergers, Sister Salerno explained, the congregation’s costs remained unsustainably high.

“Our main mission is service,’’ she said, “and we can’t discourage the possibility of newcomers by letting them think if they join us, it will mean coming to take care of a lot of old ladies.’’

Effectively, convents were becoming old-age homes, but with inadequate infrastructure and volunteer staff.

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“Could we build?’’ Sister Salerno mused. “Could we go into partnership with other providers, where they owned and we rented?” 

Instead, while the convent held neighborhood “tag sales,” selling or giving away the detritus accumulated over more than 50 years, placements were found for the sisters at two nearby facilities. They got to choose which they’d like to move to. More than 25 went to the Wartburg Adult Care Community in Mt. Vernon, run by the Lutheran Church. It offers many levels of care, including independent living cottages, an assisted living building, a memory care unit and a skilled nursing home.

For some of the nuns, choosing a community offering a full continuum of care was highly intentional, as they wanted the move to be their last, notes the article.

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Read the full piece at the New York Times

Written by Alyssa Gerace