Health Heroes: Saint Meinrad Archabbey Infirmary Staff

The spirit of the Saint Meinrad Archabbey infirmary is one of calm and comfort. Like many other health-care facilities, it is filled with dedicated people and caring hearts. Many days are long and tiring, but the compassion is inspiring.

Ann Phillips, director of health services, who manages the health clinic, wellness department and the infirmary, has been with the Archabbey for 22 years. “Working at the Archabbey is definitely more family-oriented. You are respected and valued as an individual,” she said.

Saint Meinrad Archabbey was founded in 1854 by monks from Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. They came to Southern Indiana at the request of a local priest who was seeking help to serve the pastoral needs of the growing German-speaking population and to prepare local men to be priests.

Saint Meinrad Archabbey was founded in 1854 by monks from Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. They came to Southern Indiana at the request of a local priest who was seeking help to serve the pastoral needs of the growing German-speaking population and to prepare local men to be priests.

The Benedictine community at Saint Meinrad consists of about 85 men who dedicate their lives to prayer and work. The monks live by the wisdom and guidance of the Rule of St. Benedict, the sixth century instructions for community living, written by St. Benedict.

The infirmary, which averages around 10 monks, is an integral part of this community, as it allows those needing extra care and attention the ability to have that without leaving their home, whether for a short time of recuperation or for their remaining time.

Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, OSB, speaks very highly of the staff. “It has been quite a few years since one of our monks has had to die in a hospital. Our monks, like so many people, would prefer to die at home rather than away, and the excellent and competent care our nursing staff provides usually makes that wish a reality.”

The pandemic this year has been challenging for the staff and community alike. 

“COVID has challenged me and my staff, especially when many of the monks and nursing staff were both sick. We had a lot of fatigue. I also experience COVID-decision fatigue, as this can be very overwhelming. People rely on you to know the answers,” Phillips said.

“COVID has challenged me and my staff, especially when many of the monks and nursing staff were both sick. We had a lot of fatigue

All but two of the monks in the infirmary have had, and have recovered, from COVID-19. 

“Those were the hardest few weeks we have had. We were short on staff, as some were off because of COVID. It was challenging, yet it’s a rewarding feeling now, because we made it through really well,” added Ann Wahl, a CNA who has been part of the staff for nine years. She says that the Saint Meinrad staff works hard to respect the fact that this is the monks’ home. She adds that she likes to serve people and help them maintain their individualism. 

Fr. Bonaventure Knaebel, OSB, agrees. Along with traditional health-care needs, the monks often call on the staff to help with other important details. Knaebel says that he has macular degeneration, and that someone reads the Community Bulletin to him each week. The former archabbot (1955-66) is now 102 years old and has the rare ability to say he has lived through two pandemics, in 1918 and 2020.

Knaebel says that he has macular degeneration, and that someone reads the Community Bulletin to him each week. The former archabbot (1955-66) is now 102 years old and has the rare ability to say he has lived through two pandemics, in 1918 and 2020.

“The nurses take care of us. A lot of little things come up that demand their attention. When I’m looking for something, and cannot see it due to my eyesight, they are always willing to help.”

The daily activities for each of the monks varies, depending on their health and interests.

Mass is celebrated each day in the Infirmary Chapel, with various monks coming from the monastery to assist. Meals are also taken together, often in silence, but occasionally with talk of current events, television shows or spiritual topics.

Br. Jerome Croteau, OSB, who spent many years on the Archabbey building crew and working with the vineyards, also enjoys being able to go outside when the weather permits. The courtyard is a popular spot for many of the monks on beautiful, sunny days. He agrees that the staff is there for them, not only medically, but also in a very caring way. 

“Here, our patients are like part of our family,” said Doris Schaefer, who has worked in the department for 10 years. “If they need help with special things, like reading, writing letters or mailing things, I can help them. One of the greatest achievements is earning the trust and love of my patients.”

Fr. Micheas Langston, OSB, mentions that the monks often try not to bother the nurses, but the nurses will tell us “that’s what I’m here for.” An Army chaplain for many years, Langston also taught Spanish and German at Saint Meinrad and was involved in parish work here in Southern Indiana. He returned to the Archabbey five years ago and still has frequent calls and letters from past students and those he knew from service. “Being able to talk to people is wonderful, since we cannot have visitors at this time, and we only go out for any necessary doctor appointments.”

An Army chaplain for many years, Langston also taught Spanish and German at Saint Meinrad and was involved in parish work here in Southern Indiana. He returned to the Archabbey five years ago and still has frequent calls and letters from past students and those he knew from service.

Wellness Coordinator Jill Memmer exercises with a group of monks twice a week in the infirmary. “With COVID, I have had to switch my mindset from mainly face-to-face interactions to virtual. I count my blessings that I have been able to adapt my programs and everyone seems willing to adapt along with me.”

Memmer says that one of her favorite memories is from a few years ago when she asked the eldest monk about the key to living so long and he simply smiled and said, “just keep breathing.”  “The experiences and knowledge the monks have to share with me and the world make our twice-a-week workouts a mutual benefit to them and to myself.”

“I’m proud to call myself a nurse,” said Phillips. “This profession is definitely a calling, a lifestyle and a passion; the monks have taught me to view the profession as a ministry. It takes a lot of compassion and empathy to be a nurse. You have to have the desire to make a positive impact on the lives of our patients. Even though the days are long, and, at times, stressful, I leave knowing that we did a darn good job.”

“I’m proud to call myself a nurse.  This profession is definitely a calling, a lifestyle and a passion; the monks have taught me to view the profession as a ministry. It takes a lot of compassion and empathy to be a nurse. You have to have the desire to make a positive impact on the lives of our patients. Even though the days are long, and, at times, stressful, I leave knowing that we did a darn good job.”

Stasiak easily sums up the compassion of the infirmary staff: “I’ve always said our infirmary staff is one of our greatest blessings. As so many of our co-workers have done, they have proved themselves several times over these past months as we’ve been living under the COVID pandemic. Caring for the sick while there’s a worldwide sickness going on is certainly not for the fainthearted. Our infirmary staff shows their strong and caring hearts day after day. They are among the most ‘careful’ — that is, ‘full of care’ — people I know.” •

For more information on Saint Meinrad Archabbey, visit saintmeinrad.org.

Story and Photos by Carol Ubelhor Troesch

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