EDITOR’S NOTE: The last names of some people interviewed for this story were withheld in order to protect their privacy.
IRONDEQUOIT — Sister Ann recalled her superior handing her a description of Spirit House, the Irondequoit ministry for women religious that offers residential care to women who are struggling with behavioral issues.
As a science teacher, she said she initially recoiled from the descriptions of programs including tai chi, yoga and massage, and tossed it aside.
"Too new-agey," she told her superior.
Yet a few days later, she found herself on Spirit House’s website, looking for more information.
"I got to thinking I needed to have a place for respite and healing," Sister Ann said.
When she moved into Spirit House four months ago, she found a place where she could embark on her interior journey. Although the ultimate destination will be another job, Sister Ann said she has plenty of internal homework to do before then.
"There are things that need to happen for me personally, and I just don’t think I’m going to be jumping into another job," Sister Ann said.
She has found a new appreciation for tai chi, which she said has taught her how to keep her life in balance. For instance, she has learned to pay attention to such symptoms as exhaustion, which she said are her body’s way of telling her it is not in balance.
"There are endless demands when it comes to church work, and we don’t always watch for the balance," she said.
Yet Sister Ann is one of only two women religious benefitting from the programs at Spirit House right now, which is why Sister of Mercy Mary Ann Ayers, the home’s executive director, said she and the board of directors are now also reaching out to lay Catholic and other Christian women to invite them to consider Spirit House’s programs.
When Sister of Mercy Mollie Brown, a clinical psychologist, founded Spirit House in 1981, it was a joint venture of the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St. Joseph and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. It incorporated separately in 1984.
Sister Brown, who remains involved in Spirit House, said the program grew out of a need for a more private setting for counseling women religious who sought services locally from area mental-health agencies.
"They walk in, and it’s home," Sister Brown said. "They say, ‘How long am I going to be here?’ You can be here as long as you need to be here."
Those who benefit from Spirit House include people who are dealing with abuse; are coping with a close relationship with a person who had a drug or alcohol addiction; dealing with depression or anger; those who have lost a spouse, child, parent or sibling; are coping with the challenges of aging, are overwhelmed by ministerial responsibilities; or are unable to form and maintain satisfying relationships.
Sister Ayers, who has a master’s degree in counseling, said the services Spirit House offers are basic preventive-health services.
"They are not sick," Sister Ayers said of those who come to Spirit House. "They are just dealing with everyday issues that they need to get away and know they are safe."
Women receive group and individual counseling and spiritual direction, and are offered the opportunity to participate in retreats, journaling and poetry-, dream- and literature-discussion groups. Residents share cooking and other household chores.
"This isn’t a vacation," Sister Ayers said. "This is the hardest work a person will ever do, because they have to go inside and look at themselves."
Sister Ayers noted that Spirit House is unique in the country; though there were several other counseling facilities for women religious nationally, they have all closed in recent years, due in part to an aging and decreasing population of women religious.
Spirit House is financially supported by donations and the $100 a day stipend participants pay for room, board and all program services. However, Sister Ayers noted that when the number of residents in the house drops, the home’s finances are stretched.
That is one reason why Spirit House is having a fundraising pasta dinner from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at Christ the King Parish, 445 Kings Highway South in Irondequoit. The event includes pasta, meatballs, bread, salad, dessert and drinks. The cost is $7 for adults, $4 for children ages 3 to 10, and free for children 2 and younger. Take-out is available for $7.
In addition to the pasta dinner, Spirit House will have a large garage sale June 9.
Sister Kristel has been at Spirit House for a little over a year. She said she heard about it from her spiritual director, and she decided she needed to take care of herself, due to several issues in her life.
"For me, I have to describe it as a place to come and rest in God and to be with God and to find yourself," Sister Kristel said. "The name just says it all because the spirit is going to work with you."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on Spirit House, visit www.wounded-in-spirit.com.