Making the most of life in lockdown at St. Joseph Residence

Sisters of Providence are accustomed to community life, which, with spirituality and ministry, forms the foundation of the congregation. But community life hasn’t been the same since COVID. As vaccines roll out, however, so does a sense of relief – along with the anticipation of reconnecting in person and sharing hugs!

The pandemic has been particularly challenging for those who live in community. While there is no central Mother House where all the sisters of Mother Joseph Province reside, many live in communal arrangements such as a shared home or a building with individual rooms and shared gathering spaces.

St. Joseph Residence (SJR) in West Seattle has been housing retired Sisters of Providence since 1966. Today it is home to 38 Sisters of Providence and religious women of other congregations. SJR offers independent and supportive living as well as a floor dedicated to skilled nursing services for those who require more advanced care.

From the beginning, the pandemic hit eldercare facilities particularly hard. St. Joseph Residence took preventive measures early on, putting infectious disease protocols in place, closing the building to all visitors, adjusting group dining and making Mass virtual. This was also the case at Emilie Court, the supportive housing facility where sisters live in Spokane.

While sisters at Emilie Court have continued to be confined to their rooms due to the protocols for their facility, independent-living sisters at SJR have had a bit more leeway.

During lockdown, the sisters at SJR have found safe and creative ways to stay engaged, distantly connected, and keep their spirits up. As Sister Mary Kaye Nealen, SJR community co-leader says, “For a place that’s locked down, there’s a lot of interest in activities. It’s alive and busy.”

Program Coordinator Lisa Kumar works with Sister Mary Kaye and Sister Helen Brennen, the other co-leader, to offer opportunities for community outreach, social justice advocacy, creative projects, education, games and celebrations of all kinds.

Added technical capabilities have enabled activities that used to be held in person to be adapted to a virtual format. Sisters can view live events on televisions in their rooms and follow along with provided materials. Mass, renewals of vows, funerals, stations of the cross, retreats, community meetings and more are now available remotely.

One of the toughest activities to replicate safely is outdoor walks – and the sisters are anxious for the freedom to leave the limited courtyard area for a neighborhood walk,” explains Sister Mary Kaye.

All the sisters are anticipating the day when visitors are once again permitted at SJR, Mass is held in the chapel, and mealtime draws a crowd. Yet still they carry on with gratitude for what they have right now – especially the COVID vaccine, which has been a blessing for this high-risk group.

The day of the second vaccine at SJR was particularly celebratory, with a blessing from the sisters for caregivers administering the shots and festive party accessories and “I’ve been vaccinated” stickers for the sisters afterwards.

With trust in God’s care and peace in their hearts, the Sisters of Providence look forward to a brand-new day.

Sincere appreciation to Dan Donahue, Providence director of caregiver health, and his team for vaccinating the sisters at SJR!