Twice a week, 95-year-old Vicki (Laurini) Francz has her itinerary of errands planned out.
She goes to the library for new books, the supermarket, the drug store, the bank and the fabric store, where she buys cheerful flannel for pillowcases she sews for sick kids at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.
"It keeps me busy," Francz said. "I feel like I’m helping someone, and that’s important."
Francz, who lives in Webster with her son and daughter-in-law, is driven on her rounds by Sister of St. Joseph Catherine Gibbons, a retired Catholic parish employee and retired principal. Sister Gibbons also brings her holy Communion and prays with her on behalf of others.
"It’s just like going to church," Francz said of Sister Gibbons’ visits. "She’s a comfort."
Sister Gibbons said the two have struck up a close friendship, and even discovered that they had both lived in the Tenth Ward and had family members who were acquainted.
"It feels like we’ve known each other for longer than two years," Sister Gibbons said.
Making lasting friendships is one of the goals of Sisters Care, which offers seniors and the disabled nonmedical visitations and services. Sister Gibbons is one of a small group of Sisters of St. Joseph that visits elderly members of the community as part of the Sisters Care program. The ministry was started 20 years ago by Sister Jacqueline Stephens, a nurse who noticed social needs among the elderly.
In recent years, fewer sisters have been able to take part in the program due to their own advancing ages and health needs. That is why Martha Mortensen-Kolkmann, director of Sisters Care, said she hopes to recruit new caregivers; the ministry currently has 13 caregivers, including 11 sister-caregivers and a list of clients waiting to be assigned caregivers.
"We really want it to continue," said Mortensen-Kolkmann, a licensed social worker who is the niece of congregation president Sister Mary Lou Mitchell. "I think it’s really special. If we could do it in honor of the sisters as they age, my dream would be that we would have a strong group of volunteers who did it, reaching out in that spirit."
Mortensen-Kolkmann said Sisters Care provides in-home nonmedical services, companion care, light housekeeping, spiritual support, transportation to appointments, and light meal preparation during daytime hours. New volunteers attend a two-hour orientation that covers such situations as what to do if a volunteer discovers a medical emergency and how to assist someone in transferring into and out of a vehicle. Volunteers must be older than 18, must provide a driver’s license and vehicle to transport clients, undergo a background check and provide two references.
Mortensen-Kolkmann said the work of the ministry is simple but necessary. She cited the example of an ill client who is in her 60s. The weekly Sisters Care visits enable her to continue living in her home, Mortensen-Kolkmann said.
"That simple thing is keeping her from being in a skilled nursing facility," she noted.
She said the visits from the caregivers also can remind clients that people care about them.
"There are a lot of issues with isolation and loneliness," she said.
Mortensen-Kolkmann keeps in regular contact with caregivers and clients, and she decides if a client may require a higher level of care than the Sisters Care program is able to provide.
News of the availability of the ministry spreads primarily via word of mouth, church bulletins, and referrals from families and Sisters of St Joseph. Francz’ daughter-in-law, Millee Francz of Webster, learned about Sisters Care when she contacted a referral hotline for senior services.
"I was looking for someone to come for a couple hours, and for someone to come and sit with Vicki" said Millee Francz, who works as a pediatric nurse at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.
She said Sister Gibbons’ visits bring peace of mind to her family while they are at work.
Vicki Francz said she is grateful for both the visits and the friendship of Sister Gibbons. She said the visits have helped her to maintain her sense of purpose.
"I thank God every day, and every day I ask, ‘Why you don’t take me?’" Francz said.
But she already has the answer to that question.
"I’m not finished with my work," she said. "I’m not finished with my life."
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Potential caregivers, clients and family members may call the ministry at 585-641-8415. The process to sign up as a client includes a telephone interview and a brief home visit. Care is available for $18 an hour, although a sliding scale and scholarships also are available. Volunteer caregivers are unpaid, but mileage and expense reimbursements are available.