Chicagoland

St. Mary of Providence celebrates first time back together

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2021

St. Mary of Providence celebrates first time back together

Residents of St. Mary of Providence Home, 4200 N. Austin Ave., marched in a belated Independence Day parade on July 15, 2021. They processed around the neighborhood to celebrate the dedicated work of the St. Mary of Providence Sisters and volunteers and to mark the end of COVID-19 quarantines that hit the residents hard this past year. Providence Home is a long-term care facility for the developmentally disabled. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lori Lohnes leads residents of St. Mary of Providence Home as they marched. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The ladies, as the staff call the women residents and clients, hold signs they made for the march. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Staff and residents walk together. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Residents and clients hold signs with messages of support for their caregivers. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
One of the ladies holds a sign thanking essential workers. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Staff carry signs in the parade. Daughter of St. Mary of Providence Mary Walker, the local superior, said the facility had its ups and downs during the COVID-19 pandemic, losing one staff member and one resident to the disease. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Residents and clients walk with their signs. When the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence founded it in 1925, it was a school for girls with disabilities; now, some of the residents have lived there since they were children. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Residents and staff gather on the steps of St. Mary of Providence Home following the march. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The ladies laugh and smile following the march. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Draped in an American flag, Lori Lohnes smiles after the march. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Both residents and staff were all decked out in patriotic attire for the march. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nurse Thanh Le brought her cat Lulu to visit with the ladies. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A resident views Lulu the cat. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When residents and clients of St. Mary of Providence gathered in front of their main building July 15, all decked out in red, white and blue to celebrate Independence Day, they sang a verse of “God Bless America” and carried signs thanking health care workers.

The facility provides residential care to 78 women with developmental disabilities and day services to up to 15 men and women with developmental disabilities. When the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence founded it in 1925, it was a school for girls with disabilities; now, some of the residents have lived there since they were children.

The ladies, as the staff call the women residents and clients, and gentlemen cheered every time a car or truck honked on its way by, and they lined up to see the cat that nurse Thanh Le had brought in a transparent carrier.

For the residents and day program clients at St. Mary of Providence, 4200 N. Austin Ave., the participatory Independence Day parade, followed by a lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs in the gym, marked the first time since March 2020 that they could all be together.

Daughter of St. Mary of Providence Mary Walker, the local superior, said the facility had its ups and downs during the COVID-19 pandemic, losing one staff member and one resident to the disease. For a time, the residents had to stay in their rooms with only their roommates for company; at other times, the residents of each apartment — eight to 10 women — could interact.

Every-other-week visits home were suspended for over a year, and family members could not enter the building, Sister Mary said

“We did videoconferencing and window visits and through-the-fence visits,” she said. “During COVID, we were willing to try anything.”

In the meantime, the day program had to close more than once as state and local rules changed, and it’s still not back to full capacity. Staffing became an issue as some workers got sick, were frightened of becoming sick or were at high risk for complications.

“We have a lot of people who work here who don’t know what normal is like,” Sister Mary said.

Among them is her niece, Grace Walker, 17, who will be a senior at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights in the fall. Walker is certified as a direct service provider and has been working with the women at St. Mary of Providence since last summer.

“It’s so motivating,” she said. “Everyone just makes you feel happy.”

She is sometimes joined by her mother, Susan Schulenberg, who volunteers. Schulenberg volunteered as a teen at Mount St. Joseph, a similar facility operated by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Lake Zurich, so Sister Mary knew she could help.

Thanh Le started nursing at St. Mary of Providence in September, just before the fall surge of COVID-19 cases in Illinois. She loves it, she said, because she gets to spend time interacting with the ladies.

The day before the parade, after distributing medications, she worked with some of the residents to make decorations.

“It was so much fun,” said Le, who came in on her day off with her cat and her young daughter to enjoy the festivities. “Everyone is very excited today.”

Gabi DiMatteo, a qualified intellectual disability specialist who works as a caseworker and plans recreational and educational activities, said that the residents had a hard time understanding the restrictions that came with COVID-19.

“It was hard for the ladies,” she said. “They’ve been used to going out and doing things in the community. They didn’t understand why they had to stay in.”

That made the outdoor gathering on July 15 so much sweeter.

“What does it do for anybody to release their joy and energy after so much time?” asked Daughter of St. Mary of Providence Darlene Johnson, who operated the day program. “We were all ready for it.”

Topics:

  • people with disabilties

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