Editorial: Caring for life at all ages — on the same campus

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old and young

The teaching of the Catholic Church highly stresses the value and dignity of every human life, and it bestows upon Catholics the responsibility to care for all human beings from conception to natural death. This is one reason why Catholics are encouraged to participate in political life, because the unborn, the poor and, increasingly, the elderly have become targets of a political system and a culture that seeks to extinguish rather than exalt. This is important work and must be continued.

But there are myriad other ways Catholics can seek to effect change and to stand up for the vulnerable outside of the political process — some of them highly creative and collaborative. Among the most recently announced is a joint venture by Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Milwaukee Catholic Home and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, in which the elderly, the young and the needy will be assisted through the same initiative.

The proposal is for a multi-generational community to be built on the campus of Mount Mary University, at which will be housed — in distinct and appropriate venues — the aging School Sisters of Notre Dame (and other area seniors) and single mothers and their young children. Care will come from Milwaukee Catholic Home, which currently cares for the sisters in their present home of Notre Dame of Elm Grove in Wisconsin. Through the initiative, young mothers will have child care support through institutions like the proposed early childhood education center while they work to complete their education at the university. At the same time, a town center with a bistro, health clinic, salon and community room will provide a space for intergenerational intermingling. The community will include 52 assisted living units for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, 24 dormitory units for single mothers enrolled at Mount Mary University and their children, and 90 independent living apartments for adults over the age of 62.

There are three things that we find particularly intriguing about the proposal. First, it is especially fitting that a college campus should be the final home of members of a religious order whose charism is devoted to education, to women and children, and to the poor (Elm Grove originally was an orphanage). These women, who understand the value of learning for all — especially the vulnerable — will be part of a system that helps provide education to single mothers who may not otherwise have had access to it. Depending on its success, such a venture could serve as a model as more religious orders age and their members become increasingly in need of more medical care.

Second, a living space that intentionally strives to bring together generations (old and new) and individuals (religious and lay) is one that professes the value of life at all ages and that is rich with the possibilities of intergenerational learning. If done well, it could be a return to the days when generations of family members lived in close proximity to one another and relied on one another for care, company and counsel. Pope Francis often has extolled the virtues of intergenerational care and learning, and he did so again in January at a conference on the pastoral care of the elderly at the Vatican. There, he reminded those gathered that “aware of the irreplaceable role of the elderly … the Church becomes a place where generations are called to share God’s loving plan, in a relationship of a mutual exchange of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Third, the creative initiative is a unique and concrete example of what those within the Church can do to support life at all of its stages and through a variety of challenges. Through this one effort, children of single parents are given attention and made to feel valued, young women are given a real chance at financial stability, and the elderly are treated with respect.

Ground is scheduled to be broken for the new facility in mid-2020, with completion scheduled for the end of 2021. We look forward to watching the progress and to witnessing the potential great good that can come from such a thoughtful and creative endeavor.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.