Friars from St. John the Baptist Province were among those who gathered at St. Francis Xavier Church in downtown Cincinnati on Jan. 14 to bid a fond farewell to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are leaving the area after 154 years of service to the elderly poor. Provincial Vicar Bill Farris attended the Mass, along with Kenn Beetz, who provided transport for a group of residents and sisters from St. Paul’s Archbishop Leibold Home, and Tom Gerchak gave John Joseph Gonchar a lift to the church, where he and Al Hirt served as concelebrants during the liturgy.
In May 2022, with great sadness and their characteristic practicality and trust in God, the Little Sisters of the Poor announced their withdrawal from the Home. Lackawanna Healthcare Associates purchased the facility and will maintain it as a senior living residence. Mother Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, LSP, provincial superior of the Little Sisters of the Poor, explained: “As part of a strategic plan aimed at strengthening our ministry and the quality of our religious and community life, we Little Sisters have recognized the need to withdraw from a certain number of Homes in the United States, while at the same time dedicating our resources to much needed upgrades and reconstruction projects in several others.”
A number of SJB friars, including Mike Lenz, served as chaplains at the Home over the years. “I was so impressed with the Little Sisters’ total dedication to the elderly poor and the respect they showed toward them,” said Mike, who ministered at the Home in the early 2000s. “I’m very sorry to see the sisters leave Cincinnati and I want to thank them for such a wonderful example of love and care for the elderly. I consider it quite an honor to have worked alongside them.”
Mike also expressed his gratitude to the Little Sisters who cared for his mother, Hilda, at their Sacred Heart Home in Oregon, Ohio (near Toledo), from which they withdrew in 2019. “My mother had some wonderful years there, and whenever I visited, the sisters would greet me warmly and allow me to stay overnight,” he said.
Other friars literally called the Cincinnati facility “home.” Cyprian Behrens was assigned there as chaplain in 2003, and marked the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood during a liturgy at the Home in October 2011. His Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in the Home’s chapel on May 17, 2019. In a 2012 interview with The Catholic Telegraph, Cyprian described his experience there as a “blessing.”
“The residents have led such interesting lives and have such wonderful stories to tell. The whole spirit of the place is very uplifting and caring,” he said. “The spirit of the sisters, who are so happy and gentle, and their foundress (St. Jeanne Jugan), and the dedication of the employees ensures that the residents are treated with infinite patience and kindness.”
Valens Waldschmidt lived in retirement at the Home and served as chaplain emeritus, celebrating Mass and visiting his fellow residents on a regular basis. His funeral liturgy was celebrated there on Feb. 1, 2017. “The Sisters have created a beautiful spirit of charity here,” Valens said in 2012. “It’s a wonderful place to call home, and the employees and volunteers are all like family.”
Other friars have great fondness for the Little Sisters due to the loving care their own family members received at the Home. “The history of our family and the Little Sisters actually goes back a long time,” said Dennet Jung, who recalled the sisters’ visits to the bakery his father owned in Clifton Heights. “The sisters would come in every Saturday morning with their baskets and Dad would fill them with bread. When it came time for Dad and Mom (Victor and Christine) to retire, the Little Sisters’ Home was the first place they thought of. They just loved it there and adored the sisters. It was a place that always felt like home. I’m very thankful for the memories and for the care the sisters gave my parents and my aunt, Dolores Holtkamp.”
The Little Sisters helped make the transition from their own home in Batesville, Ind., to a fifth floor apartment at the senior residence easy for Al’s parents, Charles and Helen. “The home-like atmosphere created by the sisters and the welcome they received from the sisters and other residents definitely contributed to that,” said Al. “My parents really formed a sense of community there. They were only in independent living for about 14 months before they went on a nursing floor, but then each had a room joined by a bathroom so they could still sort of be together.”
“The sisters didn’t just take care of my parents, but of everyone there, in a way that was very compassionate and dignified,” Al added. “They really made it a home for the residents, and I’m very grateful for the love and care they have provided.”
Kenn has been volunteering at the Home for 40 years, taking residents on various outings and occasionally providing transportation for the sisters. His mother, Hilda, was a resident at the Home for 20 years, and his grandmother, Frances, also spent time in the sisters’ care in the late 1930s and 40s. “I’m going to miss the Little Sisters’ kindness,” Kenn said. “They took excellent care of my mom, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Kenn plans to continue volunteering under the facility’s new leadership, saying, “I just enjoy being with the people and getting to know them. For me, it’s just been a very enjoyable thing to do.”