By Jim Fair

feature1Every person on earth has one thing in common: aging.

Despite the claims of miraculous skin creams and super vitamins in late-night television advertising, no human being ever gets younger. In fact, more of us are in the upper age brackets than at any time in history

Let’s look at some telling numbers:

  • About 16 percent of the population of the United States is 65 or older.
  • The average age that people retire is 60.
  • The average life expectancy is nearly 79 years.

Those numbers suggest that the average American will live nearly two decades after retiring. And as the natural process of aging takes its course on physical capabilities – and perhaps mental abilities – alternative living approaches will become increasingly attractive.

Older Catholics, like any other cohort of the population, want to live in a place that is safe and welcoming. They want ready access to health care and a range of activities to stimulate the mind and body.

Catholics also want a spiritually supportive environment – and ready access to the sacraments of the Church.

A Benedictine Approach

For Catholics – or anyone interested in an environment grounded in true hospitality – facilities such as Villa St. Benedict in Chicago’s western suburbs, offer a choice of independent living, assisted living, and memory care. It isn’t uncommon for a person to move to the facility in an independent living home or apartment, later move to assisted living, and eventually enter memory care.

That flexibility of care level is one factor that makes a facility like Villa St. Benedict attractive. But there is more than that, as hinted in the line that appears under the name whenever you see it: “Senior Living in the Benedictine Tradition”.

In 1912, the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart came to Lisle, Illinois. They bought land and built a convent. In 1929, an addition to the convent increased the space and allowed the Sisters to run Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic school for girls until it closed in 1968. Later, Queen of Peace, also operated by the Sisters, provided housing for seniors in the local area.

Today, that grand building has 51 assisted-living apartment homes and 14 memory support residences. Expansion has added 143 independent-living apartments and 56 homes where seniors can combine independence and connection to the Villa’s community, activities, and spiritual life.

Of course, the site also encompasses the monastery of the Benedictine Sisters. Their tradition of teaching, caring, and hospitality are a constant influence on the staff and residents of the Villa. That tradition is described in four “core pillars” of hospitality, stewardship, respect, and justice.

According to Phyllis Kramer, the facility’s director of sales and marketing, the pillars are ingrained in everything and everyone at the Villa.

“It’s who we are – we just can’t help it,” Phyllis said. “It helps us to be open and friendly. We’re an extension of the Benedictine Sisters’ mission of hospitality.”

Phyllis Kramer

And, yes, given the proximity of the Sisters’ residence, you will encounter sisters if the visit Villa St. Benedict. They interact constantly with the residents, making sure older people get to Mass (offered daily), and leading Rosary groups. They also organize special events on major Catholic feast days. It is most certainly a Catholic non-for-profit — that serves people of all backgrounds and faiths.

Promotional material for the Villa describes its chapel: “Breathtakingly beautiful, spacious, and adorned with stained glass windows, The Sacred Heart Chapel provides a peaceful space for community and guests to gather for communal and private prayer. The original Baldachino altar, finished in ivory, is surmounted by a life-sized statue representing the Sacred Heart, patron of the Benedictine Sisters.”

That might sound like an overstatement of the chapel’s beauty, but any visitor – Catholic or not – likely will agree. It is a beautiful, peaceful, holy place.

Like the better senior living facilities in 2020, the Villa has plenty of amenities:

  • 24-hour assistance with activities of daily living (dressing, grooming, and bathing, med management)
  • Three chef-prepared meals daily
  • Licensed nursing staff 24 hours a day/7 days a week
  • All utilities: phone, cable, internet and WiFi, emergency response pendant
  • Housekeeping and laundry service
  • Daily engaging activities to encompass social, spiritual and physical enrichment
  • Salon and spa
  • Fitness center
  • Wellness center and outpatient physical therapy
  • Outdoor grounds that include: gazebo, walking paths, and grotto
  • Daily Mass at Sacred Heart Chapel

Of course, in recent months there have been changes in life in every senior-living facility.

Coping with the pandemic

As this article is written, Villa St. Benedict, like much of the world, is starting to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. This is a serious topic at the facility and for good reason.

By far the largest number of deaths from coronavirus have occurred among senior citizens, with substantial numbers of those deaths in nursing homes and senior-living facilities. In fact, the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sobering.

In short, the older you are the more likely you are to die from coronavirus if you catch it. During America’s worst week for deaths from the virus (week of April 18) deaths of those 65 and older totaled 13,301; deaths for those 24 and under were 17.

However, no Villa St. Benedict resident has contracted coronavirus, which Phyllis Kramer said is due to the facility establishing strict controls early on and making no exceptions. Residents and staff wear facemasks whenever together. And outside visits are prohibited.

Phyllis said one of her major concerns when the facility went on “lockdown” was to find a way to keep residents and their families connected. For some residents, phone and email help. But for others (especially those in memory care) keeping connected has required periodic video chats via Zoom or Google Chat.

Ironically, in some cases, this has allowed contact with distant relatives that would rarely visit in person. One resident in the memory care unit, for example, enjoyed a video chat with her grandson, his wife, and their toddler son all the way from Ireland.

“We have to make sure our residents are safe, happy, and engaged,” Phyllis said.

For more information:

Phyllis Kramer | Director of Sales & Marketing

Villa St. Benedict

1920 Maple Avenue

Lisle, IL 60532

(630) 725-7000-(main)
(630) 725-7033 (direct)

(630) 725-6785 (fax)

pkramer@villastben.org

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