There is a silent majority in many parishes of the archdiocese these days.
Fortunately for them, there is a group of people who hears their cries for help.
The Association of Pastoral Ministers to the Aging has been helping senior parishioners for the past 20 years. APMA has a membership of approximately 20 who are in various ministries involving the elderly.
“The group serves the elderly by understanding they are part of our parish and are not forgotten,” said Kristin Nowak, an APMA member.
Who: Association of Pastoral Ministers to the Aging (APMA)
What: Support group for people involved with senior care
When: meets the third Monday of every other month starting with a bag lunch at noon; next meeing is Nov. 16
Where: Saint Francis Seminary, 3257 S. Lake Drive, St. Francis
Information: Suzanne McKinney, (414) 570-9906
According to chairman Suzanne McKinney, the purpose of the group is to “facilitate the development of ministry for and with older adults; offer professional development, training and spiritual support; and provide opportunities for idea sharing and creative planning.”
Nowak joined the group because of her work as a pastoral assistant at South Milwaukee’s Divine Mercy Parish. Her duties include visiting the sick of the parish and doing outreach to homebound and nursing home resident parishioners.
“When I learned of this support group, I was so happy to have other people to talk with about how they reached out to the sick and seniors in their parishes,” Nowak said.
Joining APMA has led Nowak to starting other groups in her parish to assist the elderly, including a widows group, visitors club and bereavement group.
Ambrose Siers, pastoral care and evangelization coordinator at St. James, Franklin, joined on the recommendation of someone who had been attending the meetings.
“I found that there was good information being shared by those who were working with the senior population,” said Siers.
Mary Beth Drechsler, a nurse and member of St. Elizabeth Parish, found that APMA helped her get started in her ministry. “The networking with others in the same job has been invaluable. The new ideas shared by others in the group have benefitted our parish as well. For example, the prayer shawl ministry, which has been a huge success here. The stories that come back to us about these prayer shawls give me goose bumps.”
McKinney, a registered nurse, found that APMA provided a chance “to benefit my seniors and to share with others in ministry.”
Nowak said her parish has helped the elderly and homebound by bringing them Communion, getting volunteers to help with raking and shoveling, having school children make “thinking of you” cards, offering rides to church and starting a prayer network and a healing prayer shawl group.
“These programs and outreach are so important because the seniors feel connected to church and feel they have a purpose, whether they can physically be in church or not,” said Nowak. “It also sends the message to our parishioners that seniors are respected and important.”
APMA meets the third Monday of every other month at Saint Francis Seminary, St. Francis. At the meetings, members network, collect resource materials and hear speakers on relevant issues such as Medicare, grief support, Alzheimer’s disease and spirituality.
“The connections made in this group are very valuable because each member is a wonderful resource of experience. We are all gifts to each other,” said Nowak.
Drechsler echoed those sentiments.
”I do feel this group is very important for the archdiocese and our senior population. I think we are the only group in the archdiocese for the elderly. We need each other to bounce ideas off of, or ask if anyone knows how to do something or where to find information.”
APMA was started by Bill Leon, who worked for Catholic Charities. When Leon left for new employment, the APMA lost its liaison but the members wanted to continue meeting.
Under Leon’s leadership, the group hosted conferences on aging and wellness through Catholic Charities. The conferences covered topics such as chronic disease, aging better, spirituality and changes in Medicare.
Since Leon’s departure, the group no longer holds the conferences, but the speakers at the group’s meetings are still a component of APMA.
The group recently held a kick-off meeting which featured a talk by Bishop Richard J. Sklba titled “Seniors in the New Testament: What the Scriptures Tell Us Our Responsibilities Are to the Elderly.”
“We hope to continue to keep this part of our group,” Nowak said regarding the bi-monthly speakers, “because it is very valuable in our outreach.”