Service at St. Antoine’s

Sophomores Shine at St. Antoine’s Residence

“At first I was very nervous and I was actually a little scared.  At the end, I cannot describe what an amazing impact it made on me.”  So says Nicholas DiTusa, a sophomore, of his recent retreat experience in the Special Care Unit (SCU) at St. Antoine’s Residence in North Smithfield.  “I had a great day and wish I can go back soon.”

Nick and all of his classmates in the sophomore class will be sharing in a common retreat experience over the course of this academic year, what Christian Service Coordinator Mr. Stephen Crawford defines as a “service retreat.”  For a full school day, in small groups of 15 students, every sophomore will participate in a unique program created by Crawford and Lisa Schenck, the SCU program Director/Social Worker at St. Antoine’s.  (In an interesting coincidence, Schenck is the niece of former Hawk chaplain Fr. David Gaffney. )  The SCU at St. Antoine’s houses 60 residents who are dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease or deep dementia.  It is a secure unit whose residents are mostly female (there are currently four males) and primarily in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Upon arrival at St. Antoine’s the students are quickly introduced to the residents, some of whom are ushered or transported by the students to the site’s chapel for morning Mass.  A Catholic facility run by the Diocese, St. Antoine’s celebrates Mass every day for its residents and staff.  After Mass, the students return to the SCU for a morning of activities.  Partnered with a resident, the students help the staff organize and run two simultaneous activities.  A typical day might include an arts-and-crafts session and a dance, and each student participates in both activities.  The main meal of the day is served at lunch time, and the students assist the staff in delivering and preparing the meal for each resident.  After lunch the students are debriefed on the day’s experience by Ms. Schenck and her terrific staff, and the students are educated on the challenges of aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

“All of our students are required to perform at least 25 hours of service each year, and they do a great job of it” says Mr. Crawford.  “But to make that service truly Christian service, to find a venue that would ensure that every graduate of this school had at least one face-to-face encounter with a marginalized population of people was a challenge.  That’s when this partnership with St. Antoine’s came to fruition, and it has been terrific!  This experience really challenges our young men, stretches them, grows them in ways that are so important.  To see them dancing and singing with these special people, bringing joy to their faces, is an incredibly rewarding and gratifying experience.”

Sam Hines, a sophomore who attended his retreat in October, remembers the experience as an example of meeting the challenge of Christ:  “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt: 25).  Hines reflected that “these residents were strangers to us, and by helping them in their time of need we were helping Jesus.”  Chad Doorley was more succinct in his assessment:  “Today, I received much more than I gave.”  Another sophomore, Steve Huang, called the retreat “a very unique, precious and meaningful experience.  A trip like this is going to be beneficial for my entire life.”

“All of us know someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease” says Crawford.  “It is always fatal.  It has no cure to date.  And as our human population lives longer and longer lives the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s will continue to grow.  I hope this experience shakes our kids a little bit, makes them more inclined to go visit an elderly grandparent or relative, to be more comfortable in that experience.  This is real life, and as Christians we have a moral imperative to serve these challenged people, to love them and bring them dignity.  And that’s what these sophomores are doing.”