12 March 2018

Week of Prayer for persons with dementia, 12 - 19 March 2018

Painting owned by Pastoral Care Project
Pastoral Care Project © Charity No. 1094766.  All rights reserved.

There is more on this painting by Sr Annie Bromhan IBVM along with reflections on the Pastoral Care Project website here.

This is an edited version of a post published on 13 March 2013. May I ask anyone who reads this to check out the website of Pastoral Care Project. This wonderful ecumenical ministry, initiated by Mrs Frances Molloy in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, focuses on the spiritual needs of persons with dementia.

This is the tenth annual Dementia Prayer Week initiated by Pastoral Care Project.

Long ago I used to be a young man
and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Dutchman is a song written by Michael Peter Smith in 1968. It's about an elderly couple living in Amsterdam, Margaret and the title character. The unnamed Dutchman has dementia and Margaret cares for him with a sadness over what has happened to him over the years. It's a story of unconditional love.

Portrait of an Old Man with Beard, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Pastoral Care Project logo

I became involved with The Pastoral Care Project in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, while based in the Columban house in Solihull from September 2000 to April 2002 when I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, though I stayed there for only a few months before returning to the Philippines. The mission statement of the Project is above. I first got involved when the founder of the Project, Mrs Frances Molloy, invited me to celebrate Mass in a home for old people.

The mission statement of the Project is above. The focus is on the spiritual needs of those who are frail, especially mentally. The Project also works with carers, not all of whom would understand the spiritual needs of those they are looking after. And the carers themselves need some care too as their work can be very demanding.

Michael Peter Smith's song, sung with such feeling by the late Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, captures something of what is asked of those taking care of a person with dementia, who is very often a spouse or a parent, in the lines, Long ago I used to be a young man / and dear Margaret remembers that for me.

The Project's Dementia Prayer Week runs from 12 March and ends on the Feast of St Joseph, 19 March. 

I studied Shakespeare's As You Like It in school. (Stratford-on-Avon is in the Archdiocese of Birmingham and not far from the office of The Pastoral Care Project.) I always liked the famous speech of Jacques, The Seven Ages of Man or All the world's a stage. But a 15-year-old cannot fully understand these closing lines:

Last scene of all, 
That ends this strange eventful history,  
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,  
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

(28 October 1939 - 5 March 2018)

Last Friday, on a beautiful early spring day, we Columbans buried one of our confreres, Fr Michael McCarthy, in our cemetery at St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland. In his funeral homily his classmate and great friend Fr Noel Daly said, But surely, the biggest challenge he faced was to do all this while fighting bouts of illness and to keep going to the end despite the onset of dementia. And that’s what he did and he did it in style.

Father Noel then told us what Fr Ji Kwang-kyu Peter, a young Korean Columban working in the Philippines who was in Ireland recently to study English, had told him. Father Peter had been a seminarian in Korea when Father Michael was a member of the formation team.

At one of his first meals with the students in the Formation House where people were introducing themselves, the one thing that they remembered Father Michael saying was that he was really looking forward to learning about young people and the new Korea.

Father Noel went on to say, Just a few months ago when Kwang-kyu (Father Peter) came to meet again with Father Michael here in Dalgan, Michael could not remember him. All he said was, ‘I am sorry I cannot remember you now but thank you – I received so much love from people in Korea – I was very happy there’. Father Peter could only say that he hoped he’d be able to say that after a life on mission.


The contact details of Pastoral Care Project are here.

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