By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — When it came time for Pat Reagan to move her mother, Irene Wolfe, to a nursing home in 1979, there were no openings at the first place she contacted. Then Reagan found room at Good Samaritan Nursing Home. “God had a plan,” she said. That plan led to bringing youths and seniors together, a collaboration that continues many years later.
“Mom’s first three roommates were fallen-away Catholics,” Reagan noted. “They came back to the faith before they died because of my mother’s presence there.” Not long after her mother entered Good Samaritan, Reagan got involved in organizing priests to celebrate Mass at Good Samaritan and volunteers to help.
Those volunteers included eighth-graders from the former St. Alphonsus Catholic School in Davenport. “I never worried about any of the details because I knew this was God’s project and as long as he wanted the students and residents together, he’d always work everything out. So for 33 years I had the joy of witnessing God’s love between students and residents.”
The inspiration for the student volunteer program began in 1981 when Joe Cowley, a religion teacher at St. Alphonsus, showed Reagan an article from a Knights of Columbus magazine. It featured high school seniors visiting residents in a nursing home. “He said, ‘I have the eighth-grade students and you know the residents at Good Samaritan.’”
In consultation with the pastor, school principal and Good Samaritan’s administrator, the student volunteer program began. For 23 years St. Alphonsus students and Good Samaritan residents connected, until the school merged with Sacred Heart and Holy Family schools to form All Saints.
At that point, Reagan had grandchildren attending John F. Kennedy Catholic School at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. In 2004 she talked with then-pastor Msgr. James Parizek who agreed the volunteer program was a worthwhile venture. JFK students participated in the program for 10 years.
Reagan said students from the schools were teamed up with residents, one to one. The youths and seniors visited and participated in activities such as Bingo, bocce ball, ladder ball and writing turkey notes. One of the more recent activities was decorating cookies to donate to Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, for Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope in Davenport.
“Every Monday morning during the school year, students from St. Alphonsus, then JFK, would arrive at Good Samaritan where the residents, wearing big smiles, awaited their hugs and companionship.”
Former St. Alphonsus teacher Kathy Girlus took younger students to the Alzheimer unit to play Bingo once a month. “The young people always brought smiles and love.”
Other classes from the schools volunteered over the years, helping out with Mass, observing the anointing of the sick and engaging in Stations of the Cross for the elderly.
Now a team of volunteers from St. Alphonsus Parish volunteer and assist with Mass on Mondays. JFK students still participate in the Stations of the Cross there.
This summer, Joe Quinn, youth minister for St. Alphonsus, St. Mary and Holy Family parishes in Davenport and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo, brought a group of youths to decorate cookies with Good Samaritan residents. Quinn said he wanted the youths to participate in community service to help others and to be involved in some hands-on activities. He knew about Reagan’s connection with Good Samaritan and felt this would be a good match.
“Visiting the elderly is not social service,” Reagan said. “It is the Holy Spirit in our midst calling us to respond to making life meaningful for the elderly.”