Teaching Religious Sisters Around the World How to Age Well Together

by Shane Cooney, AIG Head of Education

Above: Sisters from around the world with AIG Director, Sr. M. Peter Lillian Di Maria, O.Carm., and AIG Faculty and Staff, Deacon Tony Silvestro, Phillip McCallion, and Shane Cooney.

Communities of religious women in many countries around the world are facing the challenge of how Sisters can provide the appropriate care and support for their aging members. Unfortunately, many Religious Congregations have neither the funds nor the support systems in place.

In 2022, the Avila Institute of Gerontology and the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm discussed options to answer these needs. The Avila Institute was blessed to receive a $720k grant to develop Sisters Aging Well Together (SAWT), a Congregational eldercare enablement program offered as a pilot program to 12 Sisters from different Communities representing Mexico, India, Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia. The goal of this program is to provide an opportunity for the Sisters to learn more about how to care for their aging Sisters. They will then be charged with sharing this information and teaching their own Communities and other Communities as the eldercare networks in these countries continue their development.

Beginning in March 2023, the 12 Sisters began receiving formative education on various concepts and practices in gerontology, person-centered care, and care of the aged in the Community setting, based on Mother Angeline’s philosophy of being “kinder than kindness itself” and treating each of our cherished aged and infirm as a unique human being. They attended classes with AIG faculty twice per week via video conference in the AIG Learning Center to complete 50 hours of education, assignments, and evaluations.

In July 2023, 10 of the 12 Sisters were able to come Avila for one month and had an opportunity to tour the Teresian House in Albany, New York. During this time, the Sisters were also able to attend in-person classes that allowed for additional opportunities for discussion, information sharing, and relationship building. A considerable amount of time was given to exploring care plans and being introduced to the AIG Care Transitions Tool, which is an instrument designed to help Sisters assess the readiness to care for the aged in their Communities.

At the end of their visit at Avila, the Sisters spent more time at St. Patrick’s Manor, where they were able to see how the Carmelite Sisters operate a long-term care Home. Once the Sisters return to their homes in August, AIG will continue to meet with them to assist with the implementation of the Care Transitions Tool and to provide ongoing support. In this way, AIG will continue to be with the Sisters each step of the way as they plan for their future—one in which they will age well together. 

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