Chaplain serves residents at Ave MariaProviding for the spiritual welfare of the residents is the heart of Deacon Tom Geffre’s chaplaincy at Ave Maria Village. As the director of pastoral services at the Jamestown nursing home, Geffre prays with residents and their families, helps them with their spiritual concerns and keeps them connected with their own ministers, if they wish. “We consider ourselves to be ecumenical. We serve all faiths, even non-believers,” Geffre said.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
Providing for the spiritual welfare of the residents is the heart of Deacon Tom Geffre’s chaplaincy at Ave Maria Village.
As the director of pastoral services at the Jamestown nursing home, Geffre prays with residents and their families, helps them with their spiritual concerns and keeps them connected with their own ministers, if they wish.
“We consider ourselves to be ecumenical. We serve all faiths, even non-believers,” Geffre said.
Of the 100 beds at Ave Maria, only about 20 are occupied by Catholics. The vast majority of the residents practice various forms of Lutheranism — about 60 to 70 percent.
Geffre ministers to all of them, regardless of what specific religions they practice and even if they are not religious.
“We do offer our facility for funerals, and we’ve had several that have taken advantage of that,” Geffre said. “It’s not that we want to be their parish, but … we leave it to the family, we give it to them as an option.”
The existing chapel is actually a multi-purpose room, with a moveable altar and a moveable lectern suitable for speakers. There’s also a prayer room.
When the new chapel is built, it will be a separate space that would seat 150 people.
Geffre’s secondary duties include serving as chairman of the mission committee and as a member of the capital campaign committee for Ave Maria.
The capital campaign committee is currently raising money for a building expansion that would include a new chapel, and the mission committee promotes the Ave Maria mission — to serve Jesus Christ through serving other people, particularly those in need.
Future projects include a food drive and assisting with the Coats for Kids program, Geffre said.
Geffre also coordinates the ABIDERS program, which brings in volunteers to spend time with residents in their last few hours of life when family members cannot.
He conducts Bible studies and services at the Heritage Centre, too.
Geffre, a Catholic deacon, assists with Mass at Ave Maria every Wednesday morning. There are also Protestant services on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, with nearly 20 ministers from the community taking turns conducting services. Geffre fills in for other pastors when they can’t make it.
“We have been very fortunate and very blessed to have the different pastors come up,” Geffre said.
Geffre, a retired professor of psychology and music at Mayville State University, previously served as a chaplain for a nursing home in Mayville and really enjoyed it.
“That’s what helped direct me, with the Lord’s guidance, to basically pursue that ministry more,” Geffre said.
He spends most of his time working with Ave Maria residents, but when residents approach death, he also does what he can for the families. Some of that time is spent in group prayer.
“I find it is a blessed occasion, in which the residents … in their last few hours, are coming at total peace with their lives, and families get to see that,” Geffre said, adding he has never been afraid of death.
Many times, dying people are concerned about their family members during their final hours. Sometimes they express hope their children will stop fighting, Geffre said.
“I frequently have heard residents wonder if they’re really worthy of heaven,” he added.
Geffre also ministers to people with dementia. Sometimes these residents remember him. Other times, he ends up introducing himself five times a day to the same person.
Rather than trying to drag the person into his reality, he tries to fit into whatever reality the resident is currently in.
“Most of the time with people who have dementia, it’s ‘Who’s going to take care of the kids?’” he said.
Instead of noting “the kids” are now 65 years old, he said it’s better to reassure them that other relatives will help out if it’s necessary.
The most challenging part of Geffre’s job is actually finding the time to meet and get to know every single one of the 100 residents, and learn how best to communicate with all of them. He tries to get to every resident at least once a month.
Meeting the residents and talking to them is also the best part of Geffre’s job, he said. Many of them have lived through amazing times in history, and can make that history come to life.
“Chaplaincy is a wonderful, wonderful mission,” Geffre said. “It’s not a job. It’s a calling.”
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at email@example.com