by Sister Constance Carolyn, L.S.P.
Meet Anna. She is 91 and has been a resident of our home in Chicago for eight years. We knew Anna for several years before she came to live with us. We often saw her at Holy Name Cathedral, where she spent her days serving as the unofficial sacristan. But Anna didn’t just hang out at the cathedral – she lived there…in the basement.
We befriended Anna and would periodically invite her to come live at St. Mary’s Home. Her worn out clothing, matted hair and bent posture made it obvious that she could use some help taking care of herself. For years, she declined our invitations. Though very poor in our eyes, she felt needed at the cathedral. She had her routine… and her independence.
Finally, Anna agreed that she could no longer make it on her own, and so in 2004, she moved to our home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. During her admission intake, we discovered that this humble old woman who lived in the church basement had earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and that she had worked for the Chicago board of education helping to develop the Head Start program. She had a personal history and accomplishments; she also had a unique personality.
Once at St. Mary’s Home, Anna continued to dress in her somewhat mismatched, bohemian style. She took pride in what she referred to as her “sensitivity” to the different cultures she encountered among the residents and staff of the home. For as long as she was able, Anna volunteered in the kitchen. Now, nearly bent in half, she spends most of the day in the chapel; she is probably there right now, praying.
Because we care for the poor, most of our residents are Medicaid recipients. Yet Medicaid covers only about half of our operating expenses. We rely heavily on private philanthropy to make ends meet. Obtaining adequate funding to provide the quality of care for which our homes are known is a constant struggle.
The HHS mandate threatens to take our financial challenges to an entirely new level. The fines to be imposed for non-compliance with the mandate represent an unsustainable financial burden. This is the greatest threat we have faced in over 140 years of service to the elderly in the U.S.
Beyond the HHS mandate, we Little Sisters of the Poor have serious concerns related to broader issues of religious liberty. If the federal government succeeds in enforcing the mandate, what is to stop it from rationing health care to seniors or including euthanasia on the list of required “preventive services” as a way of eliminating the costs associated our rapidly aging population? We Little Sisters fear that one day we could be forced to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia, acts we find morally reprehensible. This would mean the end of our mission in the U.S.
We have never faced discrimination or religious persecution in this great nation. But as Little Sisters of the Poor, we are not strangers to religious intolerance. Our foundress was born at the height of the French Revolution and established our congregation in its aftermath. Our Sisters have been forced to leave numerous countries, including China, Myanmar and Hungary, because of religious intolerance. We pray that the United States will not be added to this list.