Ministries Religious life

‘An enormous comfort’

Patients and caregivers alike rest easier with Sisters, Servants of Mary close at hand

by Kara Hansen

The minutes count out the same, but for the ill and the dying, the darkest hours can also be the longest. It takes a special kind of nurse to see a suffering soul through the night — the kind embodied by the Sisters, Servants of Mary.

“A lot of hospice patients are restless and don’t sleep for very long stretches of time, sometimes just an hour or two,” explained Mike Jurkovich, director of Catholic Community Hospice. “I think having a Sister there at night must be an enormous comfort.”

Kathy Serrano, who has been a nurse for 20 years and known of the Sisters even longer, agrees.

“If the Sisters are in the home and able to provide some comfort to them — whether that’s meeting their needs with medication or simply praying and talking with them — it really gives the caregiver a chance to get rested and refueled to take care of the patient again the next day,” said Serrano, a parishioner of St. Peter Cathedral in Kansas City, Kan.

Nursing care has always been the Sisters, Servants of Mary’s main apostolate, or undertaking, and the order serves patients all over the Kansas City area. Their mission is the church’s mission, to see Christ in the faces of the ill and dying.

“When we go to serve our patients, we go not as ourselves but as a representative of our community — and as a servant of Mary,” said Sister Catherine Bussen.

Each nursing Sister is assigned to two patients for approximately one month at a time.During the week,the assigned Sister will spend three nights caring for one patient and another three nights taking care of her second patient. Each evening,the Sisters leave their provincial house at eight in the evening and return at six in the morning.

At the end of the month, the Sisters rotate patients.

Once the Sisters return from their evening nursing shift, the community gathers for morning prayer at 6:30 a.m., followed by Mass, breakfast, and any errands or chores that need to be done.

Those Sisters who have spent the night at their patients’ bedsides then head to bed themselves around 12:30 p.m., waking at 7 p.m. The entire community then enjoys dinner together before the Sisters depart again to their patients’ homes.

The Sisters, Servants of Mary provide nursing services to their patients completely free of charge. They only ask that patients arrange to transport the Sister from the provincial house in Kansas City, Kan., to the patient’s home and back.

“They offer a great service and local parishes are fortunate to have the Sisters nearby to answer the needs of caregivers and patients,” said Serrano. “Many people in other communities don’t have this luxury.”

What each shift brings often depends on the needs of the individual patient.

“Some cases require a lot of nursing attention; others we provide more spiritual and emotional support — often in the form of simply listening or praying with a patient if they would like that,” said Sister Catherine.

Many times, the Sisters also support the patient’s family as they are coping with their loved one’s impending death. “Many times family members have very different views on end-of-life issues, and there are obviously a lot of different emotions involved,” said Serrano. “The work the Sisters do is very challenging — to both meet the needs of their patients and the patient’s family members as well.”

All the Sisters, Servants of Mary who work as nurses are Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), or Registered Nurses (RNs). Despite their professional nursing credentials, the spiritual care the Sisters bring to their work is at least as important as their nursing care.

“We’re called to be much more than professional nurses,” said Sister Catherine. “We’re always reminded of Mary at the foot of the cross and want to help ease the suffering of patients and their families, and offer their sufferings up.”

“We can remind our patients and families [that] this suffering is not in vain, but a way of uniting themselves to God,” she continued.

Despite their unflagging faith, however, working with the dying is a difficult and draining task.

“It’s not always easy,” admitted Sister Catherine. “Yes, we feel the loss and mourn.

“But seeing through the eyes of faith, we believe they are going to eternal life, which is far better than this world.”

The Sisters, moreover, believe that helping people into that next life is a grace and a privilege.

“There is so much to learn from someone who is approaching death,” said Sister Yesenia Perea. “You realize that this world is so temporary.

“And that when we die, we take nothing, but only how much we have loved.”

About the author

Kara Hansen

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