3 women in kitchen
Staff members at the St. John the Baptist friary, l-r: Shannon Sanders, her daughter Courtney, and Michelle Viacava. Photos by Sr. Eileen Connelly, OSU

On a recent hot, humid Thursday afternoon, it was as though a bit of the tropics had come to Cincinnati as the friars at St. John the Baptist Friary in Sharonville enjoyed a luau complete with pork skewers, fresh pineapple, coconut cream pie and a limbo contest. Their fellow friars from Mercy Community at Winton Woods visited and joined in the festivities.

friar with maracas

Josef Anderlohr joins in on the fun at SJB friary.

That’s just one example of the variety of activities the residents of SJB Friary enjoy, all under the watchful eye and compassionate care of Province Nurse Michelle Viacava and her staff. Adjacent to the St. Joseph Home, the one-story building opened in 1998 after extensive renovations. At the time, Provincial Building Coordinator Maynard Tetreault demonstrated foresight by ensuring restrooms were handicapped accessible and that handrails were installed along the length of the corridors. Fast forward 20 years, and Michelle approached the Provincial Council about turning St. Clement Friary into an assisted living facility. It was ultimately decided that SJB Friary would require fewer renovations and it was transformed into a 24-hour skilled nursing and assisted living facility with 10 suites in mid-2019.

Three years later, Michelle is pleased with the level of care and quality of life she and the staff of 19 are able to provide for the friars, who need varying degrees of physical help and memory care. If help is needed with medication, making their beds or doing laundry, someone is there to assist. If a friar is experiencing memory loss, a staff member will be at his side, leading the way and offering reassurance. A nurse or aide checks the friars’ vitals weekly and an in-house doctor visits monthly. Medications are monitored night and day by the nursing staff and are tweaked as needed. Some procedures can be done in-house, such as flu shots and blood draws for lab work. Every friar’s room has a call light in the event of an emergency.

woman playing accordion for 2 men

Gabriel Balassone, left, and Maynard Tetreault enjoy Michelle Viacava’s musical talent.

“We’re a loving family here,” Michelle said. “We cook. We clean. We take care of the friars and have a relationship with them. They really thrive here.”

She’s quick to note the SJB Friary Senior Care Living Mission Statement, which reads: “We are a loving care team where staff works together sharing in all the care for the best quality of life for the friars.”

Community and conversation

Maynard has come full circle, now residing at SJB Friary with Josef Anderlohr, Gabriel Balasonne, Louis Lamping, Brian Maloney and Gene Mayer as guardian. “This is a very pleasant place. I call it the spa,” Maynard said with a smile. “We have great nurses, great cooks and great views. I love watching the deer from my two big windows.”

While the logistics and level of care provided to the friars are crucial, Michelle and staff are also dedicated to ensuring they are creating a warm, homey environment for the men. “We don’t want there to be an institutional feel here,” Michelle emphasized. “This is their home, their friary.”

altar and cross in chapel

The chapel at St. John the Baptist Friary

With that in mind, the friars attend Mass celebrated by a visiting priest Sunday through Friday in the main chapel, with a Communion service on Saturday. A smaller chapel is also available so the friars can reflect and pray, read the Scriptures or say the rosary. Staff prepares home-cooked meals, during which the friars enjoy community and conversation. The large rec room is well equipped with a TV and comfortable recliners. Numerous activities are offered, depending on the friars’ individual interests, ranging from movie nights to chair yoga to sing-alongs while Michelle plays her accordion. They may stay occupied doing puzzles or reading. At least once a week, there’s a guest for lunch, including Tom Gerchak of the Office for Senior Friars, who then stays for conversation. During warm weather, the friars enjoy regular picnics outside in the courtyard. There’s an herb garden to tend, and like Maynard, the other friars watch the birds and deer from the large picture windows. Several of the friars take advantage of the quarter-mile nature path outside the friary that winds its way through the lawn and trees.

potted plants in hallway

The indoor herbal garden

“The path is easily accessible and very quiet and peaceful,” said Michelle. “It’s a wonderful way for the friars to experience nature. It’s very Franciscan.”

Safe and loved

The friars clearly appreciate their home at SJB Friary. “I enjoy the quiet, the time to read and to write,” Brian said. “Writing keeps my mind sharp.”

“I like the sense of community,” added Gabriel. “The friars are able to get together easily here and that’s a big plus. I get whatever help I need and am grateful for that. I really am happy here and am very lucky to be part of this community.”

When asked his favorite thing about SJB Friary, Louis responded: “Everything!”

Regarding her ministry to the friars, Michelle said, “I’m blessed to be here. I love doing this. The friars are like spiritual fathers to me. We talk about all kinds of things and they know my door is always open. We do our best to reassure the friars that they are safe, will be taken care of, and, most of all, that they are loved.”

5 friars at lunch table

Friars gather for lunch at St. John the Baptist Friary. Clockwise, Brian Maloney, Josef Anderlohr, Gabriel Balassone, Maynard Tetreault, and Louis Lamping.

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