Faced with retirement in the early 1980s, Rose and Raoul Grossi wanted to use their savings for good.
The Grossis, members of the lay association Third Order Carmelites, were motivated by a report of a homeless man dying on a grate in New York City while he tried to keep warm. They also had been inspired by the selflessness of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
"We said, ‘We have no children, we haven’t any debts,’" Raoul Grossi recalled. "‘We live a comfortable life. We ought to do something.’"
In 1984, they opened Mount Carmel House, the first two-bed home for the dying in the Rochester area, on Lorimer Street in Rochester. The home moved to the former convent of Most Precious Blood Parish in the late 1980s. Twenty-five years later, volunteers say Mount Carmel House continues to help people find peace in their final days.
The Grossis, who are now in their 90s, said they had considered starting a homeless shelter and a pregnancy center, but ruled out those ideas for various reasons. After that, Dr. Fernando Ona, a Catholic deacon who was working as a gastroenterologist at the former St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, suggested a home for the dying.
Raoul Grossi recalled the deacon’s words: "All we do at the hospital is feed them, clean them and medicate them. We can’t spend time with them."
The small group of founders included Deacon Ona, who now lives in Hawaii, and Carmelite Father Jack Healy, who continues to be Mount Carmel House’s chaplain.
Raoul Grossi said the group overcame many obstacles. For instance, there were only a small group of lay Carmelites who could volunteer with the ministry, and there was no source of income to maintain the home’s work after it started.
"My wife is a very optimistic person, and she said, ‘We can do it,’" Raoul Grossi recalled.
Another major obstacle was getting permission from local, state and federal officials to open the home. It was the first of its kind in the area, so the Grossis said it took about two years to get through the regulatory red tape — and even then there were a few challenges to the home’s operational structure after it had been open for several years.
However, Mount Carmel House has since served as a model for the many two-bed comfort-care homes that have subsequently opened in the area. Raoul Grossi noted that Mount Carmel House has saved millions of dollars in public money by providing patient care free of charge.
Although the home has a paid clinical coordinator, it operates around the clock through the work of many volunteers. Volunteer nurses and other volunteers who do not have a medical background are always needed, said Kathy Bauman, Mount Carmel House’s communications coordinator.
Donations also are needed. The economic downturn and the closure of neighboring Most Precious Blood Church, whose parishioners had strongly supported the home in the past, has led to a drop in donations to the home, Bauman said. Mount Carmel House does not receive any insurance reimbursements.
More than 365 patients of all ages who are from all religions and walks of society, including the homeless and the incarcerated, have spent their last days at Mount Carmel House.
"We don’t care what religion they are; they are God’s people," Bauman said.
Volunteers are taught that their role is to make things easier, she noted.
"When a patient is here, we try to accommodate them and get them whatever they want; if they want a meal at 2 a.m., they get a meal at 2 a.m.," said Bauman, who is in formation for the Third Order Carmelites and attends Masses at the house and at St. Theodore Church in Gates.
Pat Petrie, a parishioner of Irondequoit’s Christ the King Church, said she started going to Mount Carmel House to volunteer when a friend suggested it as a way to help her through a difficult time.
"Everybody thinks this is very depressing, but it’s not," Petrie said. "We have a ball."
Petrie noted the home has hosted baptisms and weddings.
"People look at death as the end," said volunteer Pam Speer of Hilton. "It’s not. This is a house of life. They are just transitioning to a new life."