New Bedford youth give and receive in faith bond with Whaler’s Cove residents

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — For the members of the youth group at St. Kilian’s Parish, gathering together to pray, listen, learn, and have fun wasn’t enough. “They needed to do something more,” Edwin Aldarondo, group coordinator, told The Anchor. “Our pastor, Father Eduardo Coll, IVE, celebrated Mass at the Whaler’s Cove  Assisted Living facility and he introduced that community to our youth. Now, for the last three years our young people travel to Whaler’s Cove every two months to pray the Rosary with residents there.”

The youth group with 22 members, “and growing,” said Aldarondo, is comprised of any interested young parishioner in fifth grade and beyond. “We have some who remain after they make their Confirmation,” Aldarondo added, “and some get involved as Religious Education teachers and in other parish ministries.

“At first the young people were nervous to interact with the Whaler’s Cove residents, but now the youngsters and the residents have a ball together. The elders wait for their arrival with joy.”

Betsy Rivas, 16, has been involved with the group for four years. “I joined because I was interested in God and my Catholic faith,” she told The Anchor. “To me, it means a lot to visit the residents at Whaler’s Cove. I don’t see my grandma, and I think, ‘What if this were my grandma?’ So it makes me smile to make the residents happy by visiting and praying with them.

“Now when we go, they all know our names and they give us hugs. Every person should visit the elderly. It brings joy to everyone’s hearts.”

Fellow member Irvin Junior Ramos, 18, has also been part of the group for four years. “I became a part of this because I wanted to be more involved in the Church,” he said. “I wanted to do more after Confirmation.

“I’m happy helping the Whaler’s Cove residents. I look forward to it. It’s something God is calling us to do. It’s great to see the smiles on the residents’ faces.”

There is already a strong Catholic presence at Whaler’s Cove, with executive director Maureen Costa and activities director Jeannine Pacheco very active in the Church. Costa, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River, told The Anchor, “It’s very important that the youth from St. Kilian’s have this relationship with our residents. The people who live here are our history, our foundation. This is more than a job for me, it’s a vocation. The interaction the children have with the residents is priceless. It teaches the youth about history. We have several veterans and their spouses here, and now they put their lives in our hands. The youths bring a joy and a distraction to the people here.”

“It means a lot to have the relationship with the youth of St. Kilian’s,” Pacheco, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace in Westport, told The Anchor. “We’ve had other groups come in, but haven’t connected with the residents like these young people have.”

“It’s awesome to have the kids come here,” resident Muriel Rostron told The Anchor. “They’re great. We enjoy having them here.” Rita Childs, also a resident, added, “This is fantastic having them come for the Rosary with us. I always give them a big hug when they get here.”

“It means everything to have them come here,” said resident Karen McCombe. “When I was a youngster I was involved with my faith. Today so many kids are leaving the Church. It’s sad. But the kids from St. Kilian’s are being brought up to connect with God and the Blessed Mother. I’m proud of them.”

In addition to visiting the Whaler’s Cove residents, the St. Kilian’s group has twice arranged trips for some of the ambulatory residents to visit the Father Peyton Center at Holy Cross Family Ministries in Easton.

“We provided them with the opportunity to leave the place where they live and brought them to the Father Peyton Rosary Center up at Holy Cross Family Ministries in Easton and Holy Cross Father Leo Polselli provided them a day’s retreat,” said Aldarondo. “They enjoyed every bit of it. I’m so grateful for those who helped coordinate it.”

“It was such a relaxing time,” said resident Ellen Motta, of the time spent at the Father Peyton Center. “It was interesting,” added Rostron, “I was away from the Church for a while and it helped bring me back.” 

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The St. Kilian’s youth group was also responsible for recently providing the Whaler’s Cove residents a day retreat at the home led by Father Polselli.

“I love the things Father Polselli does and says,” said resident Helen Foisy. “We don’t get these things everyday. We can’t go to Mass, so this helps a great deal.”

“I’ve been waiting for this for more than a year, when Jeannine [Pacheco] told us this was going to happen” said McCombe. “Father Polselli is wonderful and he teaches us so much and reminds us of our faith. And he teaches us new things as well.”

“A year ago Jeannine Pacheco came to the Father Peyton Center by bus with a group of about 15  residents,” Father Polselli told The Anchor. “I conducted a Day of Prayer with them and the response was quite positive and Jeannine contacted me and asked if I would consider coming to Whaler’s Cove so that other residents who were wheelchair-bound and unable to come by bus could experience the prayer program as well.

“Upon my arrival I was pleased to see the auditorium I would be using and with the reception on the part of Jeannine and Mrs. Maureen Costa. I was struck by the genuine concern both these women had for the spiritual welfare of the residents.”

Father Polselli led the residents in praying the Rosary to open the retreat, followed by the showing of the movie, “Eggplant Lady,” a production of Family Theater, a part of HCFM. “Eggplant Lady is a powerful story about letting go and letting God, in short it speaks about a woman whose son wishes to move to an upscale neighborhood and this woman has to give up going to the soup kitchen with her eggplant dish each week,” explained Father Polselli. “Events in the life of this woman parallel Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Rosa, the woman, at one point in the film says, ‘When something bad happens that we cannot change or even understand, just try to remember that everything and all of us are part of God’s plan.’

“Many of the residents could identify aspects of the film with the reality of their own lives of having to give up homes, family situations residing now at the assisted living facility.”

Father Polselli utilized Rosary meditations from Father Peyton’s “Rosary Prayer Book,” and incorporated music from the “Mystical Rose” CD, containing Marian meditations set to music.

“Looking out over the group, the faces of some looked tired, maybe unresponsive, however at the conclusion of the day, one woman asked to speak and simply said how grateful that she and the others were that I would take the time to come to them,” said Father Polselli. “The entire time together was ‘Heavenly,’ according to her.”

The group is also responsible for The Missionary of Charity of Mother Teresa Sisters from New Bedford visiting the home at Christmas with a group of about 50 children, most of whom are from St. Kilian’s, to sing for the residents. “This started two years ago and the elders really enjoy having the children sing,” said Aldarondo. “It has been the responsibility of our youth to provide as many spiritual experiences for the elders.”

When the St. Kilian’s youth group felt the need to “do something more,” the words were not just a wish, but something they actively pursued and accomplished.

For three years, the youngsters have put smiles on the faces of many of the Catholic residents at Whaler’s Cove, and have reignited a spiritual spark in their souls.

“This all started with a tiny visit several Christmases ago,” said Pacheco. “Then boom! They come to pray the Rosary, we’ve visited the Father Peyton Center, and have Father Leo coming to us. All thanks to the youth at St. Kilian’s and Edwin’s hard work.”

“They make me feel so good,” resident Pauline Toomey told The Anchor. “Children having such faith at their age is rare. They have helped make me feel like God is with us at our age, when we need faith.” 

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts