Father Charles Davignon knows something about the spiritual needs of the elderly.
As a pastor, he ministered to parishioners of all ages, and now — a nonagenarian himself — he lives at Michaud Manor in Derby Line where he celebrates Sunday Mass and is available to residents who seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation or simply want to talk.
“Companionship is [the] number one” need older folks have, he said, whether they live at home or in an elder care facility like Michaud Manor, one of four such facilities run by Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.
Whether they need companionship on their spiritual journey or just the companionship of a friend, the Church can and must provide that, Father Davignon emphasized, saying Catholics must not overlook elders and must treat them with warmth and dignity.
Well known for his concern for people in need, Father Davignon stressed the need to treat seniors — and all people — with deep respect for their dignity as human beings. “We must maintain our respect for one another at whatever age or ability,” he said.
And care for the elderly is not only the job of bishops and priests, it must be the concern for all members of the Church. “The Church is the mystical Body of Christ; it’s not just ordained members.”
So what can the Church — the people of God — do to tend to its older members? Pay attention to them, because, as Father Davignon knows, what matters to them is how they are made to feel. Do they feel ignored? Do they feel welcomed? Do they feel abandoned? Do they feel uncomfortable going to Mass because they use a walker? Are there spiritual enrichment programs they can attend with the help of ride?
Connie Daigle, a resident of Michaud Manor who is a parishioner of St. Andre Bessette Parish in Troy, said elders need to feel connected to their church, “not lost in the shuffle.” Prayer groups and Bible studies can be important parts of their life, and if they can’t get there, it’s important for someone in the church to offer a ride to keep them involved.
Parish clergy and parishioners are essential visitors to help elderly members stay connected and have the opportunity for the sacraments and spiritual guidance. Parishes have extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to bring the Eucharist to those who are hospitalized or homebound; many parishes make books available to help everyone on their spiritual journey. Vermont Catholic Charities’ eldercare homes have priests who celebrate Mass regularly.
“The need is definitely there” to minister to the elderly, Daigle said. “We have a responsibility to respond to them,” Father Davignon added. “Our obligation to ‘honor our mothers and fathers’ does not disappear because they are in a different [life] situation.”
—Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.