Every Friday at 2 p.m., Father Ivan Trujillo, pastor of Resurrection Parish in Batavia, conducts a special Mass for veterans and their family members living at the nearby New York State Veterans Home, located on Richmond Avenue. For 21 years, this Mass has been a tradition at the facility, home to 126 residents, including veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and their family members.
During the Mass, held in a room inside the nursing facility, veterans and their families gather to hear the week's Gospel reading with Father Trujillo. When it comes time for Communion, the attendees receive the Eucharist from volunteers and staff who walk around the room to distribute the host. The Mass has been taking place for 21 years, and according to those who assist at the facility, it is a much-loved tradition.
"We cheer them up. They learn of God's love for them, and through the years I've been coming here, since it's been open, actually, I've seen a change in people," Father Trujillo commented after the Mass on Oct. 21. "Some of them are depressed, but they perk up, especially with the music. I am not a musician, but I try to do my best with the guitar. It helps. They like the singing, even though I don't have too much variety of music, but after the years, I've learned that people from nursing homes like to hear music."
Donald Hirons, a volunteer, said the veterans home offers long-term care for veterans and their spouses, and some other relatives are also eligible based upon eligibility. Operated by the New York State Department of Health, it offers skilled nursing as veterans live there for an indefinite period of time.
"We usually have 60 to 70 people here," Hirons said. "It's veterans, relatives and anyone who wants to come who's visiting, they're welcome to come. We usually also have an organist, Joe."
The facility's activities director, Lisa Ingalsbe, said the Mass has been happening every week since the home opened in 1995. "We have never missed a Friday. If we've had any issues where we've had flu or anything like that, we've done them on the units. We've done them in this room during construction, but we've never missed a Friday," Ingalsbe remarked. "(The turnout) is phenomenal."
According to Ingalsbe, the Catholic Mass at the veterans home is generally strong since a large portion of the state-run facility's residents is Catholic. "We actually have a nursing aide that comes from each unit to help us, because we have so many people in here," she added. "Father Ivan is a contracted employee with us, so his church has come for the entire time that we've been here." Church volunteers also come.
Twice a year, volunteers from Resurrection Parish, which consists of the merged parishes of St. Joseph and St. Mary in Batavia, to administer the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to the Catholic residents. Father Trujillo also does palliative visits for gravely ill residents who are about to pass away. According to Ingalsbe, as a state employee, it is important to provide for their spiritual as well as physical needs.
"We want them to have all of the same comforts that they have in the community," Ingalsbe said. "This is their home, and that becomes their Church on Friday. We have a lot of folks who come in from outside. Many of the people at the Catholic Mass are spouses and children of residents, who attend every week."
Ingalsbe noted the residents who go to the facility's Mass have generally attended Mass every week for their entire lives, and the facility strives to make life inside the nursing home no different for them in this respect. Since these are people who have dutifully served their country in the military, the home hopes to ensure they realize they are still functioning members of society who pray for people on the outside.
When the state nursing home first opened, there were still living World War I veterans who lived there. As an employee who has been with the facility since it first opened, Ingalsbe has been able to witness the many men and women who have served. If a resident veteran dies, his or her spouse is allowed to stay.
"We take veterans, spouses of veterans. We've had some parents of veterans. We would take Gold Star parents," she explained. "We honor them in every way that we can. We provide them with phenomenal physical care, spiritual care. We keep them busy and try to keep them happy. We have an award-winning activity department that does everything and anything they want - and they help us. They give us as much back as we do them. We try to make sure they are not 'busy' work, but things that are actually helping."
For more information about the Catholic Mass or other activities at the New York State Veterans Home at Batavia, call Lisa Ingalsbe at 585-345-2019, or firstname.lastname@example.org.