Assisting older adult populations on the rise to age with dignity, honor

September 13, 2022

A presenter speaks to members of the northern Senior Senate of the Archdiocese on Aug. 8. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Aging Ministry)

HOUSTON — The population of people aged 55 and over within the boundaries of the Archdiocese is projected to grow to 2.1 million in 2026, up from a reported 1.5 million in 2016, a 4.4% increase.

This projection shows both an abundance of wisdom and gifts available for the service of the Church from this growing community and the need to respond to challenges these aging congregations face today and in the foreseeable future.

Mark Ciesielski, director of the Office of Aging Ministry, said the ministry provides clergy support and formation of parish staff/leaders engaged in older adult ministry to address these issues for their aging parishioners.

“These efforts strengthen the clergy and parish leaders’ skills and knowledge of aging resources available,” said Ciesielski. “We offer education and planning to help leaders know how to tap into the gifts of older adults for their parish communities. The formation also helps leaders better understand the reality families face with older adults and how to minister to their needs more effectively.”

“The end results,” Ciesielski continued, “are parishes enriched with the gifts and talents of older adults, as well as tools to help older adults age with dignity and honor.”

The ministry’s current reach includes 81 active parish senior clubs slowly rebounding from the pandemic. The office also offers direct assistance to 400 seniors through its annual days of prayer, senior senates, and regional seminars about issues like caregiving, Veterans’ Administration benefits, aging in place support, and end-of-life planning. He said an additional 200 seniors are given referrals to community providers to help them with specific needs.

To encourage communication between parish senior groups across the Archdiocese, Ciesielski said the original “Senior Senate” structure created in 1976 by Office of Aging Ministry founders, Sisters Teresita Partin, CVI, and Dorothy Sachnik, CVI, exists today. This includes three Senior Senates — northern, central, and southwest — governed by a set of by-laws with officers and parish representatives who meet regularly.

Delois Semien, senior at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, and Bob Mitchell, senior at St. Catherine of Sienna Parish, both agree Senior Senate meetings provide them with opportunities to engage socially with other parish senior groups and exchange ideas and share resources.

“In 2012, another senior invited me to the central Senior Senate meeting hosted by the Office of Aging Ministry, to socialize monthly with seniors from other parishes,” said Semien. “We exchanged ideas, activities, events and educational resources for engaging and supporting seniors at our home parishes. We also visited other parish clubs and benefited from sharing their social and spiritual events.”

Mitchell said he also first encountered the Office of Aging in 2012 when he became president of his parish senior club and attended the southwest Senior Senate meetings. He feels he would not have had access to these resources if his parish senior ministry operated on its own.

“The Office of Aging Ministry provides seniors with updates for educational speakers and area senior activities, plus a helpful newsletter,” said Mitchell. “As a Marine veteran, I was pleased when asked by the Office to secure a color guard for a seminar on Veterans’ benefits for older veterans and widows of veterans.”

Julia Klawinski, a St. Edward Senior Saints member, had a similar experience attending a northern Senior Senate meeting 10 years ago.
“I witnessed the benefits of these educational presenters talking to seniors at my own parish on topics that included fall prevention, transportation support, memory care and caregiving,” said Klawinski. “I personally benefited from attending regional seminars presented by the Office of Aging Ministry on how to support aging within your own home.”

Klawinski said her adult children attended the sessions with her and learned how to better support their parents as they age, which also better prepared them for their own futures.

The Office of Aging Ministry recently completed a survey of every parish in the Archdiocese to identify how to assist parish staff in responding to requests from families with older adults.

“Requests range for help with memory care and other caregiving support to pastoral ministry for end-of-life care,” said Ciesielski. “A need was identified to serve older adults who predominantly speak Spanish. In response, we are piloting an October training program in English and Spanish to help parish staffs know how to make good referrals to community service providers for their older adults. In turn, live and virtual training options will be available to every parish in the Archdiocese on making referrals.”

Ciesielski said the Office of Aging Ministry partners with community service organizations and Archdiocesan ministries to provide a more comprehensive picture of how various ministries and community services work together for the needs of families with older adults. By inviting these partnerships in seminars, the Catholic community can understand how the pieces of ministry and service fit together.

“For example, Catholic Charities Senior Services brings a direct service component to the table,” said Ciesielski. “The Offices of Worship, Pro-Life Activities, and Catholic Cemeteries can address end-of-life and funeral planning, while the Office of Family Life can address a ministry of consolation, wedding anniversary celebrations, and the role of grandparents. These Archdiocesan ministries and community provider services can also help parishes more easily access educational, formational, and direct services for families with older adults.”

The Office of Aging Ministry is one of more than 60 ministries that benefit from the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), mainly for staff positions that coordinate multiple services and activities offered to parishes and community providers. With additional funding, Ciesielski said he would hire a dedicated staff person to help parishes recognize and develop the wealth of older adults’ gifts and talents to benefit the parish, as well as discover more outreach services to underserved parishes without senior groups.

To donate to DSF, go to Out of each gift given to DSF, 100% of every dollar goes directly to supporting these ministries.