Concerns about elderly people feeling alone or isolated during the pandemic have been raised around the world, including at the Vatican. This summer, Pope Francis remembered seniors on the feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Christ’s grandparents.
Describing the elderly as a family’s “roots,” he asked that they not be left alone. He called on young people to use the “inventiveness of love” to reach out and “send a hug” — even virtually — to seniors.
Here in the Archdiocese of Louisville, several older adults are being remembered and honored not only for the roots they have laid, but also for how they are aging. They are nominees for the University of Louisville Trager Institute Gold Standard of Optimal Aging Award.
Among the 25 older adults being honored are active Catholics contributing to the community, including two retired priests. Also, being honored is a Bhutanese refugee who, along with his family, was resettled in Louisville by Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services.
Dr. Christian Davis Furman, who serves as the medical director of the UofL Trager Institute, said recognizing older adults this year is particularly significant because of the pandemic.
“What makes this award so special is that it is a recognition of the active and on-going contribution older adults have made in our families and communities,” said Furman in a press release. “Now more than ever we have been inspired by the example of the older adults in our lives as we navigate the current pandemic. While the Gold Standard of Optimal Aging always serves as a way to highlight the immense value of older adults in our communities, this year’s recognition carries a particular level of significance.”
The UofL Trager Institute’s Gold Standard of Optimal Aging has been honoring individuals age 85 or older for nine years. In those years, many priests and religious have been honored. Older adults chosen for the honor are “outstanding models of optimal aging. Individuals receiving this special recognition exhibit inspirational involvement in various aspects of their lives, despite any challenges they may face,” said the press release from the institute.
This year’s honorees include Dr. Elayne Roose, Evelyn Siemens, Father Robert B. Gray, Father James E. Flynn, Tom Briggs, Pearline Allen, Mary Margaret Caster and Pupsa Subedi.
Father Flynn, 90, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville but shows “no sign of slowing down,” said Christopher Clements, who nominated him for the award. Over the past decade, Father Flynn has been active in serving the Hispanic and Latino communities in and around Louisville pastorally and in advocacy.
“Various times during the week, you can even see Father Jim Flynn at street corners in Louisville holding up a sign or banner” advocating for immigrants and refugees to be welcomed. Father Flynn also has a long history of service to the people of Central America. Starting in the early 1980s and until a few years ago, he traveled to Central American countries with the human rights group Witness for Peace to learn more about the plight of those fleeing to the U.S.
Father Gray, 92, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Gray volunteered weekly at the Parkway Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on Eastern Parkway, where he celebrated Mass for elderly residents and offered pastoral counseling, spiritual care and the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Before the pandemic, he also celebrated weekend and weekday Masses at St. Therese, St. Elizabeth and Our Mother of Sorrows churches. Father Gray remains active by rising early to pray, celebrating Mass when needed, going to the grocery store and preparing his own meals, according to his nomination.
Dr. Elayne Roose has always had an interest in science, psychology, religion and spirituality, her nomination said. She has a master of arts degree in ministry and a doctor of psychology in counseling. Her belief that individuals, especially Catholics, should be more active in creating and sponsoring spiritual programs for lay people, led Roose to turn her home into the Cor Unum Spiritual Center, said Dr. Jane Thibault, who nominated her. At 91, Roose continues to provide spiritual formation, development and guidance for people of all ages and faith traditions. The center is also a meeting place for book clubs and groups, such as the secular Carmelites. Roose practices Yoga and meditates twice a day. She’s an avid reader who likes to stay informed on current events and theological concepts and thoughts.
Evelyn Siemens, 92, worked for the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service for more than 20 years. Her assignments as a recruiting officer took her to cities across the globe, such as Lisbon, Taiwan, Bucharest, Burkina Faso and London. In the decades since returning to Louisville, Siemens has been active as a volunteer. She has served as a member of the social concerns committee at St. Barnabas Church, now St. John Paul II Church. She served the Little Sisters of the Poor with tasks from ironing their habits to planning parties for the elderly residents served by the sisters’ St. Joseph Home for the Aged. She also served the Meals on Wheels program as a meal packer.
Tom Briggs is a member of St. Margaret Mary Church. At 85, he still volunteers weekly as a reader with Radio Eye, a program that broadcasts the reading of current news, public service and general interest programming to people who are visually impaired. Briggs has also volunteered at the Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) for close to 35 years as a former board member and a supporter of the VIPS Corporate Cup Golf Tournament. Briggs was the recipient of the VIPS Ambassador Awards last year.
Pearline Allen, 94, volunteers weekly at St. Martin of Tour Church’s Schuhmann Center, which assists homeless individuals with food, clothing and social service referrals. At the center, she works in the clothes closet where she often helps homeless men pick out clothing. “She is very kind and patient to each of them and always seems to go the extra mile to find something that will suit their needs,” said Christopher Clements, who nominated her. She also volunteers with the Louisville Metro Retired Senior Volunteer Program and has done so for nearly 25 years. She attends Mass at St. Lawrence and Mary Queen of Peace churches.
Mary Margaret Caster, 86, volunteers weekly at St. Joseph Children’s Home where she joins 50 other women to make handmade quilts, comforters and baby blankets. She has been doing this for 20 years. Since the pandemic began, Caster has been making cloth masks for St. Joseph’s staff members. “Her warm compassion for others has reached another level and she is a true role model for so many others in our community of giving back but ensuring a great healthy spirit, too,” according to her nomination. She is a founding member of St. Martha Church.
Pupsa Lal Subedi was resettled in Louisville by Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services 10 years ago. But his journey began in his native Bhutan when persecution forced him to flee to Nepal, where he lived for more than 20 years in a refugee camp. There, he farmed on a small plot of land and raised his family. At 85, Subedi is one of the oldest in the local Nepalese-Bhutanese refugee community. His ability to tell stories and share history earned him respect and he’s considered a patriarch of the Bhutanese community, according to his nomination.
The honorees are usually treated to a luncheon but due to social distancing guidelines and safety concerns brought about by the pandemic, they will be honored this year with a special tribute video featuring UofL’s President Neeli Bendapudi, Mayor Greg Fischer and Gov. Andy Beshear. The video will be available Sept. 11 at www.tragerinstitute.org/2020honorees.