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Little Sisters, big family

Love of dogs. Blue eyes. Having the name “Marie.” Hometowns. Faith.

These were just a few of the topics of conversation between teenage girls and residents of Mullen Home for the Aged as they worked together on St. Patrick’s Day crafts March 8 at the monthly Hospitality Club gathering.

“We found out we like a lot of the same things,” said teenager Erika Diaz, a student at St. Vincent de Paul School, as she and her mother Michelle Diaz, helped resident Marie Wrona, 92, make an Irish cross to brighten up her room in honor of the saint’s upcoming feast day.

“We have a lot of fun here,” said Wrona who has lived at the facility since moving here from Chicago two years ago to be near her daughter.

Seventeen young women—from 13 to 20—participated in Hospitality Club. The community meets at Mullen Home in the Highlands neighborhood of north Denver the second Saturday of each month, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., where they do crafts, games and projects with the residents, as well as attend Mass and have lunch together.

Some members have ministered to the elderly for years.

“I’ve been involved in Hospitality Club since sixth grade,” said Marie Lilles, 16, who is home-schooled, adding that she started volunteering at Mullen Home in first grade with her mother.

“I love working with the residents,” Lilles said. “To hear their stories; it’s incredible to learn about the things they’ve lived through.”

She also enjoys working with the Little Sisters of the Poor; the congregation that has run Mullen Home since 1917.

“I really love working with the sisters,” she continued. “They’re so open and loving. When I’m here and working with the residents or watching the sisters with the residents, it’s like I’m seeing Christ in both.

“When I come here, I feel like I’m at home.”

That’s a phenomenon that Sister Joseph Marie Cruz, one of nine Little Sisters at Mullen Home and coordinator of the Hospitality Club, understands well.

“The legacy of our foundress (Jeanne Jugan) is family spirit,” Sister Joseph said. “Anyone who walks in the door is part of our family.”

She walked through the door in the 1960s.

“I’m from a family of six girls, I’m the baby,” explained Sister Joseph, who grew up three blocks away at 3325 Mead Street. “My sisters would volunteer and they’d stay till all hours of the night because at that time the Little Sisters didn’t have employees.”

Her mother, Julia Ortega Cruz, was the first employee and worked in the kitchen. Today there are some 80 employees.

“(My sisters) would say: ‘Oh Mama, we did this with the sisters and we did that with the residents,'” and she would plead: “Oh Mama Mama, can I go?”

But at 9 years old, she was too young. Finally one day Mother Superior “Mother Rose” said she could come if she stayed in the kitchen near her mother.

“I didn’t like that,” she said. “Any time my mom turned her back, I’d walk out the back stairwell of the kitchen to be with the residents. I liked to comb their hair and feed them … as time went on, I got hooked.”

After serving in South America, France, Spain and other homes in the United States, Sister Joseph was happy to come back to Mullen Home and its 78 residents last May.

“When I came back to the U.S…. I was never ‘home-home,'” she said. But now she is. “I receive my joy in giving my life totally to God in caring for the elderly.”

That family spirit is what attracted Courtney Goodrum, 16, and her mother Vivienne Goodrum, parishioners of St. Thomas More in Centennial, to join Hospitality Club.

“We decided to come together and we’ve really enjoyed it,” Courtney said. “I love spending time with the residents and getting to know them individually. It’s helped me to love people more.”

In addition to the monthly gathering, they serve lunch to residents every Saturday.

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “Most of all, I’ve learned to be open to taking care of others, and to reach out to others.”

The outreach extends both ways.

“You come to help,” said Michelle Diaz. “But you find out you’re the one being helped.”

Hospitality Club
What: Young women 13-20 spend time with senior citizens
Where: Mullen Home for the Aged, 3629 W. 29th Ave., Denver
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m., second Saturday of each month
Info: Call 303-594-7420 or email vcdenver@littlesistersofthepoor.org

Feast of St. Joseph March 19
St. Joseph is the patron saint of the Little Sisters of the Poor, dating back to foundress St. Jeanne Jugan.

“Whenever we need something we ask St. Joseph as the father of our little family,” said Little Sister Joseph Marie. “Just as Jeanne Jugan confided in St. Joseph when she needed anything.”

Additionally St. Joseph is the patron of a happy death.

“We accompany our residents from the moment they come into the door until the moment God calls them home to himself,” she said. “We have that fourth vow of hospitality which means that our goal is to never leave a resident dying alone.”

The Little Sisters give residents celestial sendoffs, singing the “Salve Regina” and “Hail Mary” as they near death.

“It’s just so beautiful and every Little Sister wants to be there,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re called at 2 a.m., 3 a.m.; every Little Sister wants to be there.”

It is a tradition on St. Joseph’s feast day for priests all over the country to serve in homes run by the Little Sisters. In keeping with the tradition, 14 priests of the Denver Archdiocese committed to serve lunch and spend time with Mullen Home residents March 19. The home also has a chaplain, Father Timothy Kremen, O.S.M.

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