SALT LAKE CITY — A year after the last of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word departed Salt Lake City in the wake of the sale of St. Joseph Villa, their loss is still felt. The sisters founded the Villa in 1947; the facility was transferred to the non-profit group CHRISTUS in 1994 and last year sold to the for-profit group Ensign. With the sale, the handful of sisters who lived in Salt Lake City moved to their mother house in Texas.
"We had hoped that they would stay," said Matt Church, now the Villa’s CEO. "We offered them to be able to stay free of rent if that would be something they chose," but the offer was declined, he said.
Despite the sisters’ absence, "St. Joseph Villa is still the only facility where members of the Catholic faith can come for either long-term care, nursing or skilled rehab, and have access to daily Catholic services," Church said.
Father Anastasius Iwuoha, the Villa’s chaplain and pastor, celebrates daily Mass in the facility’s chapel. In June, the Villa was home to five priests, three monks, two Carmelite nuns and about 50 other Catholics. At least 10 people, and sometimes as many as 40, attend daily Mass; on Sundays there are at least 30, he said.
In addition to daily Mass there is recitation of the rosary and a weekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. During Easter the congregation celebrated a baptism; another is upcoming.
"There is still an overwhelming Catholic presence here," Fr. Iwuoha said.
"It’s a very nice environment," agreed Jessica Maher, a Saint Vincent de Paul parishioner who for years has been associated with the Villa. She helped the sisters with various duties, served as both lector and extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist, and recently spent three months as a resident in the facility.
"What makes such a difference is that the Blessed Sacrament is here in the same building," said Maher, who likes to spend time in personal prayer in the small chapel. "It’s beautiful. That statute of St. Joseph has had me hypnotized for years now."
While Catholics have never been in the majority at the Villa, even when the Sisters of Charity ran the facility, "we’ve got about seven people just on this floor who are Catholic," Maher said.
In fact, during her stay, a monk from Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity in Huntsville was in the room directly across from hers.
Monks who receive treatment at the villa receive visits from Cistercian Father Alan Hohl several times a week; he himself was a resident not too long ago when he underwent a hip replacement.
"It’s perfect here for monks that are in need of nursing care because you have a daily Mass and the religious presence here," he said, adding that another benefit of the villa is that it offers ETWN among its cable television channels.
Although the Sisters of Charity offered a special grace to the Villa, "There’s still something about the Catholic community here that I feel is quite strong," said Rocky Conner, who been coming to the Villa for about a dozen years. His grandmother, Helen Brown, attended Mass at the Villa even though she wasn’t a resident because she was more comfortable with other people in wheelchairs, said Conner, who has continued to visit Villa residents even after his grandmother’s death. "You meet good people," he said. "The Catholic residents are keeping the Holy Spirit at the Villa."
However, more lectors, Eucharistic ministers and choir members are needed to serve at the Villa’s Masses, Fr. Iwuoha said. Also needed are people who can help residents with limited mobility get from their rooms to the chapel for Mass.
"We have some, but not as much as is needed," especially when vacations are scheduled, he said.
Saint Joseph Villa Foundation for Charity Care Hope Benefit
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 22
WHERE: Little America Hotel, 500 S.
Main St., Salt Lake City
Honoring the recipients of the Continuum of Caring Award: the Board of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.
Tickets are $100 per person; sponsorships range from $1,500 to $50,000. For tickets or information, contact Beth Ehrhardt, 801-468-6806 or visit www.stjosephvillafoundation.org.