For many people, concerns over financial resources and adequate healthcare in later years can be daunting. Sr. Eileen McNerney is grateful that as a member of the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, that is one concern she doesn’t have.
Sr. McNerney resides at the Regina Residence, which has provided a home for retired Sisters of St. Joseph as well as sisters from other congregations since it opened in 1974. The original residence served the community until 2001, when it was replaced by a newer building. The residence is located on the same property where the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have been based since 1922, housing about 50 retired sisters and staffing approximately 75 lay employees.
LEFT: PERLITA CRUZ, LVN, CLINICAL COORDINATOR & SR. EILEEN MCNERNEY, REGINA RESIDENT. PHOTO BY DREW KELLY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“What’s not challenging for me is that I have a pretty big family, which is the Sisters of St. Joseph,” Sr. McNerney said. “I don’t have to worry about money; I don’t have to worry about cooking – all of that is pretty much taken care of for me.”
Sr. McNerney noted that sisters tend to live longer than average for women, which she attributes in part to their freedom from the worries common to secular life, as well the security her congregation provides.
One unique aspect of the Regina Residence is that while people in secular retirement communities are typically strangers prior to moving there, the sisters at Regina Residence often have long, shared histories.
“Some of us have known each other for 70 years,” she said. “A lot of us have lived together for some time. A lot of us have worked together for some time. So, there are a lot of shared memories.”
LIKE A FAMILY
Perlita Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), has worked at the Regina Residence for 35 years.
“It’s like a family,” Cruz said. “It’s like a second home to me. I trust the sisters and they trust me, and it is a nurturing relationship. I even know the stories of their families.”
Cruz began working at the residence as a nursing assistant but went back to school to be trained as an LVN.
“I have found serenity and peace here,” she added. “I have been so richly blessed for so many years and am looking forward to retiring from here.”
As much as Sr. McNerney appreciates the care and professionalism of the laypeople who provide care at the residence, she also sees the impact the sisters have on the staff.
“I think they are very influenced by how we live, by how we pray for them and their families, the conversations we have about, ‘What’s going on in your families right now? What’s most challenging for you?’” she said.
Sr. Eileen Robinson of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd has lived at Regina Residence for almost 10 years.
“It’s just a loving and pleasant atmosphere,” she said.
She noted that the sisters who reside on the second floor tend to be more independent and mobile, and that the residence affords them ample opportunities and resources to maintain active lifestyles, attend meetings within their communities, participate in group prayer and meditation and even drive themselves places outside the residence. Meanwhile, the first floor provides the additional care and assistance that some sisters require.
Sr. McNerney noted that she has personally been making an effort to take advantage of the community’s fitness room and also enjoys walking about the well-manicured gardens and lush landscape throughout the property.
“I don’t think people should think about ‘those poor old nuns,’” Sr. McNerney added.
TRULY A MINISTRY
As a former member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange herself, Kathy Schinhofen sees her journey coming full circle as she now oversees pastoral care at the Regina Residence. She expressed her gratitude at being able to serve the sisters, who have dedicated their lives to serving others for Christ.
Each congregation of sisters has a unique charism and spiritual focus, which Schinhofen strives to accommodate with the help of Fr. David Robinson, the residence’s chaplain. This might include recognizing feast days particularly important to a given congregation or even providing virtual access to congregational celebrations taking place elsewhere.
“It’s strongly now an inter-congregational home, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph,” she noted.
Schinhofen also works with residents who are preparing themselves spiritually for end of life, as well as assisting staff members who may need spiritual support as they face the loss of a loved one or other personal struggles.
“It becomes a growing experience for staff members who may be of different faiths and grow to appreciate the lives of the sisters here,” she noted.
Regina Residence director Leondra Banuelos has also found herself touched by the lives of the sisters with whom she interacts daily.
She said, “Not only do I feel like I have developed professionally but also personally as an individual and seeing that this is not simply a job – it truly is a ministry.”