When visitors step from the outside into the “living room” of Alexis Manor, the chill of a rainy day in December soon dissipates. The soft lilting refrain of “Do you hear what I hear?” warmly welcomes them into a spectacular explosion of Christmas joy that permeates every nook and cranny of the senior living facility in Wexford.
The crowing jewel of the living room is an eight-foot Christmas tree adorned with sparkling lights and delicate ornaments. Many are handcrafted by residents, some are donated by family members, and others are given in memory of a resident.
“Each one has a story,” says Sister Barbara Ann Balog, who gingerly touches the “winking Santa face” that reminds her of Alex, a former resident, and the red-laced felt ice skates that make her think of JoAnn, another former resident. Sister Barbara Ann, on-site Manager of Alexis Manor, personally decorates the tree each year in the late quiet evening hours, reflecting on what she calls “the blessings of our family.”
It’s throughout the year – every day – that Sister Barbara Ann lives among and serves the 61 senior tenants at Alexis Manor, federally funded housing for low-income individuals. She fulfills government requirements, makes time for hospital and nursing home visits, provides Communion Services, attends funerals, or simply prays with or for the residents.
“Sister Barbara Ann brings a real sense of unity and family here,” says tenant Jo Stuchell. “She cares about each of us and she helps us care for one another. She also helps us take great pride in this place and in ourselves.”
Hence, the “lobby” has evolved into the “living room,” Jo says, noting that Sister Barbara Ann’s arrival in 1990 at Alexis Manor ushered in a series of traditions. Alongside the holiday-decked mantel in the living room is a bookcase displaying neatly stacked “family” photo albums in which Sister Barbara Ann has chronicled three decades of happenings at Alexis Manor.
The history of the Sisters of St. Joseph at Alexis Manor began in 1988 when Sister Eileen Currie was named Manager of the newly opened residential facility. Two years later, Sister Barbara Ann became Assistant Manager, and learned the mantra, “people first, then paperwork” from her friend and mentor.
For the past four years, Sister Ada McMahon, who formerly served as co-manager of Clairvaux Commons senior living center in Indiana, PA, has volunteered alongside Sister Barbara Ann. Following a 26-year tenure at Clairvaux, Sister Ada says, “I still have a lot of life to give to this ministry here.”
Working together is familiar ground for Sisters Ada and Barbara Ann, who both ministered for 13 years at Holy Rosary School in Perrine, Florida. At Alexis Manor, Sister Ada says that Sister Barbara Ann “knows everyone by name,” including tenants, staff, mail carriers, delivery persons, emergency personnel and even cashiers at the nearby supermarket.
Their presence as Sisters of St. Joseph brings “peace, happiness and faith” to tenant Lorraine Ruschek who was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph at Nativity. “They taught me how to respect one another,” she says, fondly recalling Sister Silveria Mannion.
While there is beauty in aging, Sister Barbara Ann acknowledges that grief and fear also accompany it. “I think we offer a sense of comfort and caring. Tenants often confide in us because we are Sisters,” she says, underlining the Congregation’s commitment to building relationships with the ‘dear neighbor.’
On this day, a few ‘dear neighbors’ gather round the piano as Sister Barbara Ann tries her hand at playing “Rhapsody in Blue.” Even when the carols fade and the Christmas decorations are taken down, boxed and stored, the joy lingers at Alexis Manor, Sister Barbara Ann says. “No matter the season, this place is alive!”