ROCHESTER — It might seem unusual to combine adult psychiatric patients with high-school students, but it’s perfectly natural for folks connected with Our Lady of Mercy.
The high school’s annual Christmas party at Rochester Psychiatric Center has been going on for nearly 50 years. An abundance of enthusiastic student volunteers shared holiday cheer Dec. 15 with current and former residents of the center.
“I doubt you have this much noise at most parties,” remarked Sister of Mercy Mary Dismas Foster, who founded the event in the late 1950s. She estimated that 130 guests attended this year’s party, which was put on by several dozen Mercy students.
Festivities began with the Mercy Show Choir treating guests to a Christmas concert. Students then served cookies and ice cream, as well as huge wrapped packages containing several gifts each. Students had acquired the items through fundraising and personal donations; they baked all the snacks as well.
Sister Dismas noted that Mercy’s association with the psychiatric center began when she was a home-economics teacher at the school and she instituted a sewing club with outpatients at what was then known as Rochester State Hospital. The club grew in popularity with patients as well as Mercy staff and students; from there, an annual Christmas party was added.
“They love it. Years later you’ll meet a student who says, ‘I never forgot going to the State Hospital,'” said Sister Dismas, who now resides and ministers at Rochester’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. She was honored Dec. 15 just prior to the concert, as were two other longtime coordinators of the Christmas party: Mercy Sister Joan McAteer, a theology teacher at the high school; and Jim Sackeli, a Rochester Psychiatric Center recreational therapist.
Several Christmas-party volunteers also keep contact with Rochester Psychiatric Center during the school year by visiting the facility on Thursday afternoons for bingo. The Dec. 15 event gave Mercy senior Missy Worman, 17, a chance to reunite with her bingo buddy, Walter, whom she assisted in opening his gifts.
Missy observed that the best way to bond with residents is to act naturally. “If you treat them like one of your friends, they’ll be very receptive,” said Missy, a parishioner of St. Pius Tenth in Chili.
Whitney Fien, 17, another Mercy senior who volunteers for both bingo and the Christmas party, agrees that residents should be regarded like anyone else. She added that she gets as much satisfaction out of her visits as do the people she meets.
“It’s a good time,” stated Whitney, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s in Rush. “It makes you feel good.”