Living to the end in dignity

For 82 years, the Domin­ic­an Sis­ters of Hawthorne have provided nurs­ing care along with spir­itu­al and emo­tion­al help.

Mar­tin Pun­tel says he has re­cieved ex­cel­lent care at Sac­red Heart, and sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward watches in the back­ground. Sac­red Heart Home of­fers care for low-in­come ter­min­ally ill pa­tients for free. The home has a big garden, pet ther­aphy, and spir­itu­al pro­grams to help pa­tients cope, Tues­day, June 19, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Alice Rochester was dia­gnosed with in­cur­able can­cer and com­pleted her treat­ments and tests, but didn’t have the fin­an­cial means for fur­ther care.

Alice, though, found just the place for people in her situ­ation.

That place is the Sac­red Heart Home, at 1315 W. Hunt­ing Park Ave., a skilled-nurs­ing fa­cil­ity op­er­ated by the Domin­ic­an Sis­ters of Hawthorne.

The Home does not ac­cept Medi­care, Medi­caid or any gov­ern­ment aid, nor does it take private in­sur­ance or pay. It op­er­ates thanks to the small and large dona­tions of in­di­vidu­al and group be­ne­fact­ors.

Alice and the oth­er guests stay for free, to live out their lives in dig­nity. She, for one, is grate­ful.

“This place is so nice. It’s beau­ti­ful here,” she said. “Every­body treats you so nice. The place is clean. It’s spot­less. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever been to. I’d re­com­mend it to any­body who is sick.”

Rose Hawthorne Lath­rop, daugh­ter of lit­er­ary gi­ant Nath­aniel Hawthorne, foun­ded the re­li­gious or­der in 1900.

The Home on Hunt­ing Park Av­en­ue opened in April 1930 and ad­mits people who are un­able to pay for their care.

“All we have ever done is take care of pa­tients who are very sick with can­cer,” said Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward, a re­gistered nurse who is the su­per­i­or and dir­ect­or of nurs­ing at the loc­al Home.

“It’s a very unique or­der. The ob­ject­ive of the Sis­ters is to provide an en­vir­on­ment that is as peace­ful and pleas­ant as pos­sible. We do this for the love of God and love of neigh­bor. The Sis­ters do not get paid.”

Male nurses, who are paid, care for the male pa­tients on the first floor. The Sis­ters, who care for the fe­male pa­tients on the second floor, get all of one day off per month. The con­vent is loc­ated on the third floor.

The staff tries to of­fer an at­mo­sphere of peace, warmth, love, un­der­stand­ing and com­pas­sion.

Mary Lou Cress­man, of the North­east, ex­per­i­enced all of that when she vis­ited her step­broth­er, Den­nis McNeill, who had lung can­cer and was giv­en two to four months to live in May 2011. He passed away after two months at the Home.

“He died in peace,” Cress­man said. “He loved it here. The care is just phe­nom­en­al.”

Cress­man brought her 2-year-old Aus­trali­an shep­herd/poodle mix, Bindi, to the Home to vis­it with Den­nis.

Dur­ing her vis­its, she gained such an ap­pre­ci­ation of the Home that she has con­tin­ued to vis­it reg­u­larly. In fact, she takes Bindi to the Home every Tues­day af­ter­noon.

Guests and staff, not to men­tion Cress­man, look for­ward to “Tues­days with Bindi.” Every pa­tient gets a lol­li­pop with Bindi’s pic­ture on the wrap­per and kisses from the friendly dog.

Cress­man, who helped pre­pare and de­liv­er meals at the Home as a vo­lun­teer while a stu­dent at St. Hubert High School in the 1960s, has got­ten to know the guests and staff very well. So has Bindi.

“We have met some of the most awe­some people. They are beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful people,” she said.

The guests look for­ward to what Cress­man and the staff con­sider pet ther­apy.

“Bindi is a sweet­heart. She’s lov­ing and caring,” said guest Angie Black, who al­lowed the dog to lick her fin­gers after lunch one day last week.

Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward thanks Bindi by giv­ing her Milk­bone treats, and thanks the be­ne­fact­ors who have kept the Home flour­ish­ing for 82 years.

“People are so gen­er­ous,” she said. “God has provided. It’s totally fun­ded by be­ne­fact­ors. The money has al­ways been there. The pa­tients pay for noth­ing.”

In all, there are only about 60 Domin­ic­an Sis­ters of Hawthorne. Ten of them work at the Home. The staff also in­cludes eight male nurses.

Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward stresses that the Home is not a hos­pice. Be­sides nurs­ing care, the staff provides spir­itu­al and emo­tion­al sup­port for the guests and their fam­il­ies.

The Home is li­censed by the state De­part­ment of Health for 35 beds, but the staff can handle about 24 pa­tients at a time.

“We really want to give the best care pos­sible,” Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward said.

The length of stay for guests ranges from a couple of days to sev­er­al years.

In fact, George Hoey has been at the Home for four years. He en­joys play­ing cards and watch­ing traffic and smoking his pipe as he sits on an out­door patio.

“It’s bet­ter than the street,” George said between hands of a game of 500 Rummy with two vo­lun­teers.

The Home is get­ting ready for a big In­de­pend­ence Day cel­eb­ra­tion for pa­tients, staff and cur­rent and former pa­tient fam­il­ies. It also dec­or­ates for Hal­loween, Christ­mas and oth­er hol­i­days.

“We try to make it very spe­cial for our pa­tients,”  Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward said.

The Home has a chapel. Mass is cel­eb­rated daily at 6:30 a.m. by the Rev. Neil Kilty, its chap­lain. Kilty also vis­its guests every Fri­day.

A doc­tor vis­its twice a week and is on call.

A large garden fea­tures benches, trees, flowers, a statue of Mary, walk­ing paths, a patio and an over­all pleas­ant en­vir­on­ment, thanks to garden­er Rich Tenaglia.

The rooms are spa­cious and in­clude bed­side tele­vi­sions.

“It’s quiet and clean,” said pa­tient Mar­tin Pun­tel. “The staff is mar­velous. This place is like an is­land.”

Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward said those who are stay­ing there gen­er­ally range from their 30s to 90s. Many are happy, re­laxed, con­tent and pleas­ant and don’t com­plain. A few are rest­less and want to go home.

Some pa­tients have a lot of com­pany. Oth­ers have none.

“Can­cer is a very fa­tiguing dis­ease,” Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward said. “The days can be long.”

Sis­ter Mar­ie Ed­ward said the Home staff mixes nurs­ing, spir­itu­al and emo­tion­al care in a way that makes guests leave this life in a peace­ful way.

“We be­lieve death is a step­ping­stone in­to etern­ity,” she said. “It’s a hard time, but it’s a vi­tal time of a pa­tient’s life.” ••

For more in­form­a­tion, call 215-329-3222, vis­it www.sac­red­heart­ or e-mail ad­mis­sions@sac­red­heart­


You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus