Before the month of May is over, we pause to celebrate Older Americans Month. The national theme for 2020 Older Americans Month is “Make your Mark,” echoing our ongoing series about the people of PHS who offer their time, experience and talents in indelible ways. This includes the many residents, like Sister Carolyn Puccio, CSJ, who volunteer in their communities, making their mark and enriching the lives of those who live and work in their midst.
Carolyn has been making her mark at PHS for over a decade. She served on the leadership team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ) who envisioned Carondelet Village to be built on the CSJ campus in St. Paul, MN. “Carondelet Village began as a vision with us as a group of women, knowing that we needed to consider how we were providing services to our own sisters who are aging and/or frail. And not just for us – but for those beyond us,” Carolyn said in an interview in 2010.
That same year, CSJ entered into a shared ministry with PHS to build and operate Carondelet Village as a faith-based setting that respects diversity of faith and culture and honors the dignity of all. “The day we affirmed the plan was so exciting, we could feel the electricity in the room – gives me goose bumps when I remember it,” Carolyn remembered. Her faith in the vision held strong as she collaborated on behalf of CSJ with Presbyterian Homes Foundation staff to raise donor funds for Carondelet Village.
Sixteen months later, Carondelet Village opened its doors. Before the dedication ceremony was held, Carolyn was unpacking her boxes in her new apartment and making her mark as one of the first residents. “It was wonderful to be there from the beginning and help foster the culture and environment,” she said. In the early days she witnessed the community coming together as the CSJ sisters befriended women and men from the greater community and embrace them as neighbors. “We believed it could happen; it was our vision and prayer but to see it happening as quickly as it did was awesome,” she said.
In the years since, Carolyn has been an active volunteer and visible presence at Carondelet Village. She volunteers her time in the community’s gift shop, which has grown to be a hub of social connection in the community. “It’s a place to come that has pretty things and treats!” she said. “It’s a ministry to work in the gift shop,” she said. “People wander in and hang out and talk about what’s going on in their lives, so I listen.”
Since COVID-19 has restricted visitors, including volunteers from the greater community, Carolyn and other resident volunteers have taken on more hours to staff the shop. Likewise, residents, for their health and safety, are currently being encouraged to not leave the building. Carolyn and her fellow volunteers have worked with the Carondelet Village staff to adapt the shop into a “mini-mart” with milk, bread, eggs, hygiene items and other groceries and goods needed by residents. “It’s helping people cope as best they can,” she said. “But, right now, it’s hard to keep cookies in stock,” she laughed.
Carolyn also volunteers as a resident ambassador serving as a contact person and intentional neighbor to new residents to help them get acquainted to their neighbors and the rhythms of the community. “We just make sure that new people have someone they can call,” she said explaining how important it is to her that people feel welcome and connected.
Less tangible but equally important is Carolyn’s daily practice greeting people as she walks down the hallways. She lives in a senior apartment on what she and her neighbors call the “party floor.” With little bit of pride she said, “We work very hard to maintain our reputation.” Every Saturday night during the 50-day season of Easter, she and another CSJ sister who lives down the hall, have been taking turns putting treats at their neighbors’ doorways. “When they wake up on Sunday morning and open their doors, they find a treat to remind them to keep the sense of celebration going,” she said.
Carolyn admits, “I’m sort of semi-retired because I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.” Beyond her service at Carondelet Village, she continues her practice as a licensed therapist. She is also the Delegate for Consecrated Life for the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, representing the Bishop to 42 religious communities within the Archdiocese.
Carolyn’s motivation to serve emanates from her lifelong commitment to the CSJ mission, “Moving always toward the profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction,” and recognizing everything and everyone as a “Dear Neighbor,” a core value of CSJ. “We take this very seriously,” she said and recognizes how this value infuses the residents of Carondelet Village. “There’s a spirit here at Carondelet Village because we all live by this principal,” she explained. With the humble mutuality of a CSJ, Carolyn makes clear, “It’s not just me. Maybe I represent what we’re all doing here.”
Through her dedication, enthusiasm and servant leadership, Carolyn demonstrates why older Americans are making their mark as invaluable members of our society, deserving our utmost respect, gratitude and companionship. During Older Americans Month, may we draw upon the wisdom, spirit and experience older adults bring to our families, our communities and our Nation.