Boleslaw and Aniela Lesniewski immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1951, eager to begin new lives. When they could no longer manage their home, their daughter, Chris Lesniewski, helped find suitable assisted living. Both knew that being together was more important than where they lived.
Years later, Aniela began suffering from dementia and it became too difficult for Boleslaw to care for her. Chris began searching for nursing homes.
“It was traumatic to separate my parents,” said Chris. “Mom was a loving and giving person, so this was very hard. They had limited income and I wanted to find a nice place. My mom was fluent in three languages, but as the dementia got worse, her brain reverted to her first language and she was speaking a lot more Polish.”
After looking at various residences, Chris recalled that the Dominican Sisters from Poland operated St. Ann Rest Home. After visiting, she and Boleslaw felt comfortable in having Aniela
move to the homey residence on Muskego Avenue.
“The sisters were caring and helpful during a difficult time,” said Chris. “My dad was protective of my mom and when I took him to see St. Ann’s, he commented on how spotless and odor-free it was. He was happy she would have her own room and that the nuns and other workers were able to speak Polish, which made us all feel comfortable. We knew they would treat her with dignity.”
Three years later, Aniela died and shortly afterwards, Boleslaw moved to St. Ann. Today, Boleslaw’s room marks joyful signs and banners that chronicle his 101 years. He’s happy and Chris feels comfortable having her father in the same residence that cared so deeply for her mother.
“They meet personal, cultural and medical needs,” said Chris. “They also have daily Mass and pray the rosary. It is nice for us that many things are in Polish as it brought back their childhood memories. When mom was ill, the sisters came in to pray in Polish and sing her favorite hymns, which was very gratifying.”
As one facet of his 33-year vocation, Deacon Theodore Gurzynski visits nursing homes to pray with residents and offer Holy Communion. He has visited homes in the Milwaukee area more than 400 times and witnessed a wide range of care. His visits to St. Ann Rest home were among the best. Impressed by the sisters, Dcn. Gurzynski frequently remarked that if his father needed nursing home care, he would send him to St. Ann.
When his 96-year-old father fell and broke his hip, he went to Clement Manor for rehabilitation for several months. From there, he moved into assisted living until he began deteriorating.
“He went into St. Francis Hospital, then their hospice and a week after I moved him to St. Ann, he looked at me, grabbed my hand and said, ‘I knew you would take good care of me son, you found me a nice place. They treat me really good here,’” said Gurzynski. “What else can you say?”
The facility has been a fixture in the city for 72 years, its enduring nature serving as a calming force both at the bedside and in the minds of the city’s elderly. In 1945, the group of Dominican Sisters from Poland came to
Milwaukee to provide care to Polish descendants. Over the years, the residents evolved in measure with the neighborhood.
According to Sr. Andrea Andrzejewska, St. Ann Nursing Home administrator since 2006, the Dominicans preserve their welcoming atmosphere through hospitality.
“Our visitors comment that they feel welcome at our home,” she said. “We are a small nursing home and are licensed for 50 residents, and this environment helps us to develop personal relationships with residents, staff and visitors. We provide spiritual assistance to all, especially dying residents. We pray for them at the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.”
The average age of the residents is 85, with the oldest being 101-year-old Boleslaw. St. Ann provides a range of services ranging from some assistance to complete care.
“This includes medication monitoring, dementia care, physical, occupational and speech therapy, oxygen therapy, restorative programs, tube feeding and more,” said Sr. Andrzejewska. “Our focus is to provide home-like care in their private rooms. We have consistent staffing, which helps to develop relationships with the residents and provide the best care and serve home-made meals.”
For Dcn. Gurzynski, St. Ann is unlike any other nursing home. The staff is caring and compassionate, kind, respectful and clean, and they cared deeply for his father until his passing in February 2016.
“The bedding is changed whenever it is needed, even if it’s five times a day,” he said. “The food is home-cooked and if the resident doesn’t like what’s offered, they offer to make them something they would like. Everyone knows each resident by name and it is truly like a second home for the residents. It’s honestly the best facility you could ever hope for.”
Because it is tucked away within the triangle of South Muskego Avenue, Becher, and West Vilter Lane, many have trouble finding St. Ann Rest Home. Due to its location, some develop negative opinions of the quaint home before walking inside.
“It resembles a question asked in John’s Gospel: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ John 1:46. Can anything good come from South Muskego Avenue? Yes, it does. Our motto is: ‘Caring for the elderly with dedication and faith since 1945.’ It is proven by our word of mouth referrals and by outstanding state survey results,” said Sr. Andrzejewska. “The majority of our residents are Medicaid recipients. All of us know that reimbursement is not sufficient to cover the cost of care. We strive to be good stewards of our resources and we count on donations and sponsorship.”