Just after the New Year, Mary Louise Doetsch sat at a table at the St. Louis Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor folding cloth napkins, with about a dozen or so in a pile waiting for her caring touch. The 89-year-old resident, a former St. Gabriel parishioner in south St. Louis, conversed with other residents in the room, joking and laughing with them.
Doetsch loves everything about the residence, explaining that there's things to do for everyone.
"If you're bored, you're bored because you want to be," she said.
In the home's Christmas play, Doetsch played an Israelite, then a shepherd headed to Bethlehem.
"This is a wonderful place to be," she said. "I like the people. It's run by the sisters, and I love the sisters. I have all the things to continue my spirituality. I have Mass every day. I have wonderful people I've gotten to know that I never would have known before."
The Little Sisters of the Poor continue to the grateful for the support they receive for caring for the elderly poor. The recent extended spell of sub-zero temperatures in St. Louis, however, brings a need for additional support for winter heating bills.
For November, when the weather was mild, the gas bill was $10,174 and the electric bill was $8,646.
Local superior Mother Gonzague Castro said that they depend on Medicaid to care for elderly residents who need nursing care, but those payments, as of Aug. 1, were reduced for all nursing homes by $5.37 a day. That amounts to a loss of $9,066 a month for the home.
"The cuts and the increased costs" have hurt, "but the people of St. Louis have been wonderfully generous in helping the elderly poor," Mother Gonzague said.
The generosity shined at Christmas when the community, especially parishes, provided gifts and other items for the residents, Sister Joseph Maureen Hobin said. Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin, for example, fulfills residents' requests.
"That is beautiful and overwhelming for us," Mother Gonzague said. "It's so touching."
Residents send thank-you notes. One resident, for example, received a gift card and wrote that she was thrilled to purchase underwear. Others received shoes. Last year, a resident of the independent living apartments at the residence received a new mattress.
"The money comes in because we take care of the poor," Sister Joseph said.
"We're very true to our mission," Mother Gonzague said.
They desire to take in more of the poor and homeless elderly but are in a transition. In August 2016 the Little Sisters of the Poor announced a plan to withdraw from their ministry in St. Louis, where they have served now for 148 years. They cited an aging community and decrease in vocations to staff the residence. A search is on for a new sponsor for the home in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis, which has 80 residents. The sisters are working with Clayton Capital Partners to find a new owner.
New residents continue to be welcomed, but those who inquire are informed about the potential sale, and that's a detriment to many. One family recently was thrilled to find a spot for their relative despite the uncertainty, Mother Gonzague said, because they wanted the quality care that is provided, the spiritual approach to aging and the availability of the sisters to respond to needs anytime day or night.
The sisters credit staff members, most of whom have remained to help continue care for the residents, and an array of volunteers.
The sisters continue appeals at parishes, and they thank pastors for their opportunity. They also make regular visits to Produce Row to seek donated food.
"We're going forward, keeping spirits up in the home with employees and the residents," Mother Gonzague said. "We had a wonderful Christmas, a lot of parties, and cheered them up."
Prayers are sought as well "to help us continue as long as the Lord wants," Mother Gonzague said. "We know this is in His hands. It's God's work."
Sister Joseph added, "God has a plan. He just hasn't showed it to us yet."
>> To help
• Donate online at www.stlouisreview.com/jRh
• Mail a check payable to Little Sisters of the Poor, 3225 N. Florissant Ave., St. Louis, MO 63107
• For other ways to donate, volunteer or more information, visit www.stlouisreview.com/jnq