Last Communion Service at Bennett County Nursing Home
By Anthony Kathol
It was a bittersweet ending to a ministry of hospitality for the homebound at the Bennett County Nursing Home located in Martin on Tuesday, September 19. With the closing of the local nursing home, the team of Certified Lay Ecclesial Ministers and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist for the homebound from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church celebrated their last Communion Service for the two remaining residents of the nursing home. The ministry has been tending to the spiritual well-being of the residents by distributing communion, leading hymns of worship and praise, and praying the rosary with the residents since 2004 when Fr. Bryan Sorensen was the local pastor. It was continued by Fr. Matt Fallgren and it continued under the present direction of pastor Fr. Tyler Dennis.
The ministry continued until it came to an abrupt halt during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2019. Certified Lay Ecclesial Minister Irene Saunders insisted that the residents needed to receive the Eucharist. She approached the CEO of the nursing home who agreed that not only their physical but also their spiritual well-being be attended to. I coordinated with the newly hired nursing home activity director Lynell Laverack, and the rosary prayer warriors Joyce Risse and Janice Whittle (all members of Our Lady of the Sacred Church), the distribution of communion, singing of hymns, and the rosary were restored in June of 2021 when nursing homes across the state were re-opened for visitors and guests of the residents.
The need for the Eucharist was essential to these residents because they were being spiritually malnourished during this critical time. So many of the Catholic residents were happy upon receiving the Eucharist and were happy to know that we were back to bring the message of the Gospel and to pray with them. I cannot but imagine how they coped throughout this period when nursing homes were under lockdown. Many were lonely and depressed and did not have family members to visit them. The residents needed that love of Christ brought to them through the Eucharist to know that they were not forgotten.
Saunders said, “You could see what a vital part of the residents’ lives the communion service was. The number of attendees grew and the residents looked forward to it every week and they were all smiles when it was over.”
I always reminded the residents during my reflection on the Gospel ‘to persevere…to run the good race’ (2 Tim 4:7)…to be the light of Christ to those around you, even to your fellow nursing home residents and care providers. You still have a purpose in this life and your mission is to pray for those outside the walls of this nursing home. That is your purpose and mission in this life until it is complete upon piercing the veil of death to which you will receive your heavenly crown.
The residents of the nursing home, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, inspire me. As silent witnesses for Christ, they continue to feed and nourish me spiritually by their faith and personal testimony. I and the rest of the lay ministry team have been abundantly blessed.
After the communion service was over, the remaining residents prayed the rosary together. I asked the two residents who or what they wanted to pray for. Russel Whirlwind Horse said, “Pray for world peace.” Dorothy Broken Leg said that she wanted to pray for her family. Both prayer intentions were a fitting way to end many years of homebound bound ministry brought to the nursing home from the lay faithful of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church.
The Bennett County Nursing Home’s last day of operation is scheduled for October 13, 2023, when the last resident will be transferred to a nearby nursing home. Many of the residents were transferred to nursing homes within the regional area including Gordon, Sydney, and White Clay, Nebraska and in Winner, Kadoka, and Redfield areas of South Dakota.