Catholic parish, faith support man after Alzheimer’s diagnosis - Catholic Courier
Jim Gulley and his wife Rose pose in front of their home. Jim Gulley and his wife Rose are seen at their home in Penfield Oct. 22. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Catholic parish, faith support man after Alzheimer’s diagnosis

“Be not afraid.”

Those words have been Jim Gulley’s mantra since 2016, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior.

Although the disease has negatively affected his life, particularly his speech and memory, Gulley chooses to focus on the positive.

“It’s been a continuing, fairly predictable degeneration of parts of me that don’t want to cooperate, mostly not talking real well, not remembering things,” he said. “At the same time, I can do a lot. … It’s opening up a new way of life.”

Faith, parish, association help Alzheimer’s patient

Gulley credits his faith, his faith community — St. Joseph Parish in Penfield — and his involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Rochester and Finger Lakes chapter with helping him maintain a positive outlook. In October, many of his fellow Catholics at St. Joseph Parish demonstrated their support for Gulley by either walking with him in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk To End Alzheimer’s — which took place in Rochester Oct. 8 — or pledging their financial support to the cause.

“The parish has kind of gotten behind him. On Oct. 8 at Frontier Field, we had a team of people walking with him. The previous weekend, on Oct. 1-2, in our gathering space after Masses, we invited people to sign up to make donations for his walk,” explained Father James Schwartz, pastor at St. Joseph. “Jim Gulley is one of our outstanding parishioners and is much-loved.”

Interestingly enough, the Catholic faith did not play much of a role in the first half of his life, Gulley remarked. His wife, Rose, however, was a faithful Mass-goer at St. Joseph and helped him become more involved in the parish. There he had many conversations with Father Schwartz, who helped Gulley’s faith to blossom.

“He is a man of incredible faith, a man who trusts that the Lord goes with him through this Alzheimer’s. He would have a reason to be depressed or to be mopey or to close in upon himself, but he is a man who radiates faith and trust in the Lord,” Father Schwartz said. “This (disease) clearly is a cross that he is bearing, but he has the great confidence that the Lord accompanies him on his faith journey, and that gives him a joy that outreaches the disease that he’s dealing with.”

At Father Schwartz’s suggestion, Gulley enrolled in classes at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in 2009. He earned a master’s degree in 2012 and joined the staff at St. Joseph Parish as a pastoral associate. Pastoral ministry was a second career for Gulley, whose background was in computer programming.

Jim Gulley seeks to help others concerned about Alzheimer’s disease

While the progression of his Alzheimer’s disease has forced Gulley to step down from his role as pastoral associate, he has remained active in several parish ministries, including one that collects and delivers food items to agencies that in turn deliver them to people in need in Rochester.

“To make up for things I can’t do anymore, I’m also a greeter at the front door before Mass,” Gulley said.

Gulley has been forthcoming with parishioners about the challenges he faces as he lives with Alzheimer’s, and he’s noticed parishioners now seek him out after Mass to talk about their concerns related to the disease. Sometimes they are worried about family members with the disease, and other times they fear they may have symptoms of it themselves, he said.

Gulley’s willingness to talk about his own experiences with Alzheimer’s makes him “a wonderful counselor” for people with concerns about family members or about their own potential diagnoses, Father Schwartz said. Gulley said he tries to be there for the community that has been so supportive of him since his own diagnosis.

Gully is far from the only Alzheimer’s patient to find solace in his or her faith community, noted Teresa Galbier, executive director of the Rochester Finger Lakes chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“A faith community is often the first place someone turns to when they are facing the challenges that Alzheimer’s brings. The journey can be isolating, but there is tremendous value in the tender care and support provided by trusted friends and neighbors within these communities,” Galbier said.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s Rochester Finger Lakes chapter is another place Gulley turned to for support soon after his diagnosis, he recalled. He and his wife often took part in group discussions with others facing Alzheimer’s, and these discussions helped Gulley accept his diagnosis and make peace with it. The couple also has been participating in the annual Walk To End Alzheimer’s for seven years now and has gotten to know quite a few people from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“They’re great people,” he said.

Tags: Health, Monroe County East
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