With the shake of a wrist, the St. Patrick’s Mercy Home Bell Choir start their performance of Our Song. Each member of the Bell Choir, residents of St. Pat’s, an Eastern Health long-term care facility in St. John’s, are dressed in their very best as they enthusiastically play a variety of tone chimes, each resident holding a note belonging to a particular chord in the song. The tune is to the Rose of Tralee but the lyrics are all about life at St. Pat’s.
Deborah Hawksley, the certified music therapist for St. Pat’s, starts singing the lyrics, “We are here at St. Patrick’s a new way of living; new friends and new faces to fill up our day….”
Some members of the Bell Choir also sing, others smile but all have their gazes fixed firmly on Deborah as she leads them through the chorus and verses.
“So today, here we are in the twenty-first century; and all that was done was well built to succeed,” the song concludes.
Deborah Hawksley, certified music therapist for St. Patrick’s Mercy Home, leads the Bell Choir in Our Song. The members of the Bell Choir are (l-r) Maisie Murphy, Gertrude Shroppe, Heather McMaster, Carol Earle, Dave Kiell, Kathy Kiell, Emma Linehan, Mary, Mary Fennelly, Carrie Collins, and Georgina King. You can also view this video on our YouTube page.
Our Song is one of many special ways this year that the residents, staff, volunteers and the Sisters of Mercy have celebrated St. Patrick’s Mercy Home’s 60th anniversary. Those celebrations started in January with an opening liturgy and reception and continued throughout the year with activities such as teas, recognition events, and variety shows.
At many of these events, the Bell Choir was one of the featured performers. The song was a hit right away, partly because it tells the story of the strong sense of community at St. Pat’s.
“I was really impressed with all the activities held here and the staff – how they really do care,” says Heather McMaster, who wrote the lyrics to Our Song and is a friend of one of the members of the Bell Choir, Carol Earle. “There’s always a loving word, a touch and just something to make people feel they aren’t isolated and they’re part of the group.”
Heather visits her friend every Wednesday and joins in the many activities that take place at St. Pat’s. When planning started for the 60th anniversary celebrations, Joyce Penney, director of Volunteer Services, approached Deborah about composing a song, who in turn approached the Bell Choir to discuss writing the lyrics. Heather, who has experience in theatre, was present at the time and graciously said, “leave it with me”. She returned a week later with a beautiful set of lyrics written to help commemorate the 60th anniversary of St. Pat’s, but coming up with a name didn’t come right away.
“Since I wrote it, we’ve been singing it all year and we called it Our Song because Deborah would say let’s sing our song now but we need to have a name for it,” says Heather. “And I thought and thought and said wait a minute we already call it our song. And it is our song in the sense of the whole building, it’s what the building is, it’s what the people are, it’s the staff, the Sisters of Mercy. This is the staff, the residents – that’s what the inspiration is – just being here.”
A New Way of Living
When you first enter the front doors at St. Pat’s, you instantly feel at home. The stained-glass windows depict the St. Patrick’s Mercy Home cross and the red door, which is the logo of the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin. Just to the right, is the Red Rose Café where residents, volunteers and families are sitting down enjoying a cup of tea and a favourite sweet. Others are milling about the corridor, chatting about their day. A poster board is prominently visible with a busy schedule outlining all the activities happening for the month.
Along another corridor, proudly displayed, one full wall shows pictures of St. Pat’s throughout the years. There are pictures of people who have helped shape the long-term care home since 1958 – pictures of activities and residents which make St. Pat’s feel like home. Other pictures showcase the many activities that have occurred throughout the year. An easel holds a poster of the lyrics for Our Song and another easel has a greeting book where hundreds of people have signed their names and included a thoughtful message about the 60th anniversary.
It’s evident a lot of work has gone into preparing for this very special year. That responsibility fell to Joyce Penney, who had a long career in health-care. She has been working hard for two years along with a steering committee. Also helping has been Lana Morgan, assistant to the executive director and Alison Power, executive director of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home.
As Joyce, Lana and Alison talk about St. Pat’s, it’s obvious that St. Pat’s is a special place with lots of history.
It’s beginning started in 1954 when Archbishop P.J. Skinner announced a plan to build a “Home for the Aged and Infirm, both men and women, to be conducted by our local Sisters of Mercy…a home that would be open to all creeds and to all classes with or without sufficient means.”
Each of the 11,000 families in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese was asked to contribute three cents a day to a fundraising campaign called Cent-A-Meal. Through the generosity of the community and under the dedicated administration of the Sisters of Mercy, St. Patrick’s Mercy Home officially opened in September 1957 with first residents arriving in January 1958.
“St. Pat’s feels like home,” says Alison. “We have a strong initiative to try to ensure that it is home to the residents who are entrusted into our care so that they’re not just a number – they’re actual people who bring history with them and it’s our responsibility to make sure that they feel dignity and respect. That’s a message we try to put across to everybody.”
Alison has worked at St. Pat’s in various capacities since 2006. It’s the longest place she has worked in her over 30-year career.
St. Pat’s is no longer just the home for the aged when Archbishop Skinner first put the wheels in motion. It now meets the needs of many age groups with a variety of physical ailments. There are currently 210 residents who range in age from their 20s to over 100.
The residents of St. Pat’s can certainly attest to the feeling of belonging at the long-term care facility and which the lyrics of Our Song so aptly describe.
“I have lived here at St. Pat’s Home for the past five years and I like it here,” says resident Gerald Hartery. “I have met many wonderful people. Also, I partook in two concerts at the home where I sang. I like participating in the many activities that the home has to offer.”
Brother Edward Wakeham agrees and believes the best part of St. Pat’s is the people who work there.
“I believe that gratitude is the best attitude and I am sure I can speak on behalf of all the residents of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home, to express our gratitude to all those who work and serve at the home to make it a beautiful place to spend the evening of our lives,” says Brother Wakeham.
Much of the success of St. Pat’s can be contributed to its 140 active volunteers and auxiliary. Joyce says in the three years she’s been volunteering at St. Pat’s, she sees everyday how much the residents and their family members value what each volunteer brings to St. Pat’s.
“Every single one of them say they feel they get more out of volunteering than they’re giving because they feel so good to be able to give back to the residents,” says Joyce. “So for me, when I come into the building, I see all the care, love and genuine giving of oneself to help those who by a touch and a smile on your face, you have made their day a little brighter.”
Sisters of Mercy
When talking about the highlights of the year, it’s hard for all three to pick just one. All the events have had special meaning but for Lana, the history and the connection to the Sisters of Mercy have been especially meaningful to her.
“We like to think we have continued the work that the Sisters started over 60 years. It’s big shoes to fill,” adds Lana. “Learning the history and having a little extra connection to the Sisters this year has really brought it home the work they have achieved. It’s so nice to be a part of it.”
One of the highlights for Lana was the recognition event for the Sisters of Mercy because it engaged retirees and showed the Sisters how much they are appreciated. Lana says that in many ways it was a reunion with a lot of hugging, crying and reminiscing about past times.
Given how closely tied St. Pat’s and the Sisters of Mercy are, much of the celebrations have included the Sisters and their contributions to St. Pat’s and the community.
This has included “Historical Moment,” an event hosted by Sister Charlotte Fitzpatrick which provided some historical context about the origins of the Sisters of Mercy. The religious institute was founded in 1831 in Dublin by Catherine McAuley and its main religious mission is to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education. The first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1842 and have had an indelible connection to the province ever since.
“When we started two years ago, one of our goals was to raise awareness of the Sisters of Mercy, the connection to the archdiocese, and what we do differently,” says Alison. “That was one of our goals to try to advocate and be advocates for residents of long-term care and we have done that.”
Stand By Your Nan
When planning got under way to shape the 60th anniversary celebrations, one idea quickly grew traction. Due to the success St. Patrick’s Mercy Home Foundation had with the annual dinner theatre fundraiser, with over 20 shows in partnership with the Spirit of Newfoundland, the Foundation decided to have Sprit of Newfoundland write a play about the history of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home.
“The Foundation exists to enrich the lives of the residents of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home and so we were thrilled to be able to support Spirit of Newfoundland’s production of Stand by Your Nan,” says Chris Peddigrew, Chairperson of the St. Patrick Mercy Home Foundation.
From that idea, Spirit of Newfoundland was contacted, and the idea gained momentum.
“We had several meetings with Spirit of Newfoundland and the cast members where they received some history and ideas from us and I could see they were really excited because they couldn’t wait to start working on the show,” says Lana.
The show opened in June to rave reviews with many sold-out performances. Locals and tourists alike have loved the show but also, importantly, so have the Sisters of Mercy as the show captures much of their history from their original roots in Ireland to the work they have done in St. John’s to care for the elderly. Alison says the Sisters were proud of the production as it was done tastefully but also in good humour, something the show achieved.
“This production, along with many other wonderful events throughout the year, not only celebrates and recognizes the lives of our residents, but also shows love and support of the Sisters of Mercy and of family, friends, staff and volunteers of the home,” adds Chris.
The Bell Choir is Ringing
Lana, Joyce and Alison, while reminiscing about the last year, always seem to come back to the Bell Choir.
“I can still remember when I first heard the words to Our Song in the boardroom at committee and Deborah came in and sang it,” remembers Joyce. “I can still cry when I hear the words to that because it’s such a beautiful way to give tribute to everything this building is and the people within. Every single word to that song is so beautiful.”
Lana nods her head in agreement and chimes in about the voluntary recognition event held in April, where the Bell Choir debuted Our Song. Joyce smiles: “Everyone went away from that event saying this was a wonderful voluntary appreciation night because we got to see the residents giving back to us. So Our Song has really given a lot of joy to so many people.”
The song is about the love and family that exists at St. Pat’s. Everyone at Eastern Health has a role to play in the care of residents in the building from nurses to environmental services to food services and everyone in between. The staff, volunteers, Sisters of Mercy act as one big team and don’t work in silos. Everyone has a place to be and is a part of the puzzle that makes St. Pat’s the special place it is.
Sister Elizabeth Davis, the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy in St. John’s agrees. She says the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home were a precious opportunity for reflection and gratitude for all who form the St. Pat’s community – staff members, volunteers, physicians, managers, Board members, family members, Sisters of Mercy and community partners.
“Central in our gratitude will always be the heart of our beloved Home, the residents who live here,” says Sister Elizabeth. “The residents themselves in their own voices and music through their lovely Bell Choir speak to the beauty, the warmth and the respect they experience here. That is why St. Pat’s exists. That is why St. Pat’s strives to be as good as it can be. That is why St. Pat’s is a circle of compassion and mercy. That is why St. Pat’s is our Home.”
Because everyone loves what they do, work happens with a lot of fun too. Plans are already well underway to decorate for Christmas with friendly competitions among the staff for best decorations. And the residents are looking forward to the annual Santa Run.
Well Built to Succeed
Even though 2018 has been a special year, the focus has really been about making every day special, every year. This year, everything was just a little bit bigger and better but it’s easy to tell St. Patrick’s Mercy Home is above all else a family and the 60th anniversary celebration has been about celebrating that family.
Everyone associated with St. Pat’s speaks of it lovingly and it’s easy to tell that those who work here, don’t consider it work.
“Well, to tell you that I have been an employee of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home for over 33 years is one thing but to really tell you my feelings is not so easy,” says Jane Critch, ward clerk. “I have learned so much from the residents, their families and staff that I have been truly blessed. I am so lucky to have called this place “home”. It is bittersweet that I am retiring early next year and, as I leave St. Pat’s, I will remember each and every person I have met over the years. It has been a memorable last year here for me especially as it is the 60th anniversary of the home’s opening. Bravo St. Patrick’s Mercy Home and the Sisters of Mercy!”
That sentiment is echoed by Emily Tucker, a recreation specialist who has been on the job for just six months.
“As a new employee at St. Patrick’s Mercy Home, I feel so fortunate to have started in the middle of the 60th year and experience such special celebrations in a building filled with beautiful history,” says Emily.
For some of the employees, 2018 and the 60th anniversary has been one of the highlights of their career. Both Carolyn Halleran, a physiotherapy support worker, and Wanda Duke, a licensed practical nurse (LPN), have worked at St. Pat’s for many years.
“I have been working here at St. Patrick’s Mercy Home for the past 45 years and I have enjoyed working here tremendously,” says Carolyn. “This year was especially memorable as it is the 60th anniversary of St. Pat’s Home and it has been one of the highlights of my career. I have no intention of retiring anytime soon.”
“I have been working at St. Pat’s for over 28 years. Twenty-seven years of that have been with dementia care,” says Wanda. “I have developed many lifelong friends through coworkers and families. One thing I have learned to do is focus on the positive or the negative will consume you. The brain/mind is a powerful thing, never take it for granted!”
What the Future Holds
If nothing else, the steering committee is proud of what they’ve accomplished this year and the story they’ve been able to share about St. Pat’s, how it began and where it’s heading into the future.
Although they’re sad the special events are wrapping up with a closing liturgy and reception on December 4 at St. Pius X Church, they are grateful for all the support they’ve had over the year from Eastern Health, families, residents and volunteers in the community. They’re looking forward to the future and ensuring everyone understands how important St. Pat’s is to the community it serves.
“This past year we have been able to open a lot of people’s eyes,” says Alison. “This is what it’s all about. It’s not just a building you walk into and you provide care and you walk out. No, this is more than that. Far more than that. So we have been successful in that – I know we have been successful in that.”
Joyce agrees: “We’ve accomplished what we set out in our Terms of Reference to enhance awareness and visibility of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home and making people aware of who we are. Reminding them that we’re here, we’re vibrant and we’re going forward with Eastern Health to serve the long-term care needs of our residents.” ■
This story was written by Vanessa Colman-Sadd, communications manager with Eastern Health.