By Monte Mace
OLATHE — It’s easy to conjure up images of Mother Teresa when you encounter the nursing Sisters from India hard at work here at Villa St. Francis. From their white habits to their prayerful mien, the Sisters remind one of the blessed founder of the Missionaries of Charity, the one who told her nurse-Sisters: “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
And so, with great love, the Sisters of Villa St. Francis bring not only their compassionate, expert medical care to their patients, but also the love of Christ, which has led some Catholic residents to return to the church and others to pray for the healing of others.
Nine Sisters from India are assigned to Villa St. Francis, a Catholic skilled nursing facility sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. They are on loan from their congregations headquartered in southern India — the Medical Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of St. Anne. They were invited here by the archdiocese in 2002.
Now, they are a familiar sight in the hallways and chapel of Villa St. Francis. Ordinarily, the Sisters choose to work the 3-11 p.m. or 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shifts, so they can pray together at 7:30 a.m. and attend Mass at 8:15 a.m. in their motherhouse in Olathe.
There, they pray for the staff at Villa St. Francis, for family problems confided to them and for sick or dying residents.
Then, at both the start and end of their work shift, the Sisters stop into the Villa’s private chapel for a moment of prayer.
“We make sure when we arrive that we go to chapel,” said Sister Ann of the Sisters of St. Anne. “Some of the staff follow us. At the end of the shift, we thank the Lord for the day.”
The Sisters supplement the staff of 50 nurses who work at Villa. Kelly Powell, director of nursing, would love to have more of the Sisters from India to work with the 150 residents.
“I have been a nurse 25 years and never worked with nun nurses before,” Powell said. “Their skills are so high that if their orders wanted to take them back, I would fly to India to ask for them to stay.”
The Sisters’ sense of responsibility for their jobs is so great that only one or two of them go on vacation at a time — and the “vacation” is usually a trip back home to visit a sick family member or to attend a family funeral.
Rodney Whittington Jr., CEO, believes having the Sisters on staff adds an extra dimension that other residential care facilities don’t have.
“They give our residents a sense of peace and comfort,” he said. “When they care for you, not only is the person medically capable but they are as compassionate as you can get. They are just so outstanding.”
Although the Sisters were trained as registered nurses in India, when they come to the United States, they must first work as certified nursing assistants due to state licensing rules. It might take up to two years before the Sisters are able to then take their boards here and become registered nurses in this country.
Powell says her staff is happy to have the Sisters on board for many reasons, not least of which is because the Sisters’ nursing skills are excellent. She recalled a time when one of the Sisters took a personal interest in a resident’s critical lab test, which may have saved the resident’s life.
But the Sisters are expert in providing another — often-underrated — medicine as well: the healing power of prayer.
Sister Celine of the Medical Sisters of St. Joseph didn’t hesitate when a resident was distressed over her son who was fighting throat cancer. She suggested the woman begin saying a daily rosary.
“He was seriously ill with cancer of a throat gland,” Sister Celine said. “But he was healed.”
Sister Mary Kenneth, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth who also works at the Villa, said while walking together down the halls, the nursing Sisters look “like a train of white, and the residents love it.”
If a resident has difficulty falling asleep, the Sisters may be called upon to pray for them. If Sister Ann is called, she may sing a spiritual lullaby to help the person nod off.
“We pray with some of the residents after they take their meds to bless them and prevent nightmares,” said Sister Bisi of the Medical Sisters of St. Joseph.
The residents’ love for the Sisters is as obvious as the Sisters’ love of their patients. Recently, the Sisters beamed broadly as they came upon resident Kathy Atkinson of Mission, with whom they linked hands, slapped high fives and teased each other.
“I call Sister Ann ‘Sister Cranberry’ because she’s always pushing me to drink cranberry juice,” said Atkinson with a chuckle. “Sister Bisi makes us feel better by putting the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”
“They’re wonderful,” concluded Atkinson. “The place wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Adele Sykes couldn’t agree more. She was discharged March 6 after being in and out of Villa St. Francis for two years.
“I love them and their warmth and caring,” Sykes said. “Without a doubt, their prayers helped me go home.”
And among those who work at the Villa, a family-like connection has developed between them and the Sisters. When one of the Sisters returned after a six-month absence, there were hugs all around.
“They’re like celebrities,” said Powell. “The staff and residents almost knocked me over getting to her.”
When asked what the hardest duty was, Sister Bisi replied simply: “There are no difficult duties.”
Powell, however, said the Sisters’ hardest duty may be driving to work in the snow. In southern India, temperatures in February average 84 to 94 degrees.