BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ministry to the elderly can be challenging, especially meeting the spiritual needs of a group that may be lonely, isolated or ill.
But “Brother Moe’s Seniors,” organized by Maurice Swartout, OFM,invites the elderly to get out of the house to “pray and play with the Lord,” at St. Clare Church in Buffalo, where Michael Putich, OFM, is pastor.
Maurice, who has lived at St. Patrick Friary in Buffalo for the past 20 years, has been reaching out to brighten the lives of senior citizens, whether they need spiritual guidance, prayer, a few laughs or just a day out. His Eucharistic services are the highlight of the week for many.
Fellowship and Fun
“It has been said that the greatest problem in our society, especially among our senior citizens, is loneliness,” Maurice said. With that in mind, he set out to provide activities that foster relaxation, friendship and fellowship.
On the last Friday of each month, the group meets for a luncheon. Before dining, Maurice leads a Eucharistic service in the Church of St. Columba and Brigid. The seniors then move to the parish hall for a $3 lunch, including homemade soup and dessert prepared and served by Maurice and seven volunteers. “The price is right,” in the words of one group member.
Maurice estimated regular attendance in June as 130 seniors. He said he expects that number to increase in September. The nominal cost of the meal is offset by raffles and theme basket drawings twice a year.
The seniors also play Bingo. “Of course, no senior gathering would be complete without Bingo,” he said. “We have 15 games, and the winner of each gets $5.” One 103-year-old participant brings her daughter and son-in-law.
From June to October, the seniors get together for a monthly bus trip, weather permitting. They often sightsee, see a show, or eat at a nice restaurant.
“These trips are very popular,” Maurice said. “There is usually a waiting list for each adventure. Many people say they have never gone on a bus trip before and would be unable to go now, except for our availability. Needless to say, they look forward to these days out of the city and into the countryside.”
On Tuesday nights, the group gets down to its real business: meeting for devotions and prayer at the church in what Maurice refers to as holy hour.
“We have a faithful gathering of approximately 35 people at each service, during which we always offer special prayers for our servicemen and women in the armed forces. We also have St. Jude devotions every Friday at the parish,” said Maurice, who is the spiritual assistant to the St. Patrick’s Secular Franciscan fraternity.
The group has been very well received, with members saying the fellowship has helped them through illnesses, loneliness or tough times in their lives.
Another added: “I look forward to our Tuesday prayers and devotions. We pray for each other, and it really helps me to have others support me.”
The benefits of camaraderie and entertainment are not to be overlooked: “The bus trips are so much fun, from the minute you get on the bus until you come home. Br. Moe really gets us singing and telling jokes.”
“I thank God for Br. Moe and his seniors. I was lonely before, but then I started going to the luncheons and trips and then the devotions. I’m not lonely any more.”
Maurice also recently invited the seniors to help create a St. Francis garden at the friary. Dug out of a former basketball court used by the Boys Club, the garden is now a nice spot for parties and cookouts. “It is certainly no grandiose project,” said Maurice, “but a place where people could come together for cookouts and enjoy themselves, which is the intention.”
All of the hard work in building the seniors’ ministry has certainly paid off.
One group member wrote in to say, “If you’re reading this, then you should seriously think about coming. You won’t regret it.”
And to that, Brother Moe said, “Amen.”
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, contributes frequently to HNP Today.