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Chantilly parishioners volunteer at Arden Courts of Fair Oaks

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On a recent Wednesday afternoon, residents of Arden Courts of Fair Oaks who struggle with their memory because of Alzheimer’s or dementia, sit quietly in the activity room as a recitation of the rosary is played on a CD led by volunteers from St. Timothy Church in Chantilly.

Because lyrics to songs can be recalled easily while other memories fade, volunteer Kathleen O’Day invited the residents to sing a rousing edition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” after the rosary.

Although the residents forget things because of their conditions, they are not forgotten. The volunteers help with monthly Mass and a weekly rosary. Father Robert C. Cilinski, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Burke, and priests from St. Timothy celebrate Mass at the facility.

Father Cilinski started celebrating Mass at Arden Courts when his father became a resident in 2011. They didn’t have Catholic Mass at the time, so he celebrated Mass twice a month for his father and the other Catholic residents. His father died in 2013, but Father Cilinski continued to celebrate Mass as a way to honor his father and his relationship with the residents.

“(The residents) are very aware and attentive when they are praying,” said Father Cilinski. “Faith, friendship with God and prayers seem to never leave us.”

This past fall, current and former volunteers they received an award for their 20 years of service, including O’Day, Carol Ann Scarlett, Patricia Turant, Terri Miller, Grace Begley, Deacon David Conroy, Kim Kenna, Stella Maris, Mary Bumbera and Ruth Huling.

Kenna, who homeschooled her seven children, often brought them to Arden Courts for the rosary and Masses. She said it taught them things their school lessons might not have. “They came to understand that growing old and frail was just part of life, and I know that it helped my kids when my dad became sick with cancer,” Kenna said. “They understood that life was a complete circle — (the elderly) cared for us when we were young and now we were caring for them.”

Brittany Smith, resident programs coordinator at Arden Courts, said the volunteers help ensure the residents stay connected to the church. “Some of the residents are unable to get out on their own to practice their faith,” said Smith. “The volunteers always come prepared and help assist residents to and from religious services if needed.”

The ministry at Arden Courts evolved as an extension of the parish’s existing ministry at nearby Manor Care Health Services of Fair Oaks, said Deacon Conroy, who was one of the initial founders of the ministry. “We had been at Manor Care since the building was dedicated, (so) I had an existing group of approximately 12 to 15 volunteers from St. Timothy's from whom I could request assistance,” he said. “Mary King, a parishioner and a nurse at Manor Care, was the initial stimulus for the ministry (there).”

Arden Courts and Manor Care are within the St. Timothy parish boundaries, according to Deacon Conroy. He was willing to help because he saw the need and importance of making the sacraments available to the residents.

O’Day was asked to participate 20 years ago when one of the founders, Odette Lopez, was in need of volunteers one day. She never stopped coming back.

“It’s like a commitment, and you fall in love with the folks here,” said O’Day. “You just want to keep coming back.”

The benefits of the ministry are felt by both volunteers and residents.

“One of the most memorable and regular occurrences was, and continues to be, the genuine, heartfelt smiles shared with the volunteers as they entered the rooms of the residents,” Deacon Conroy said. “The incredible appreciation they extended to the volunteers had a profound and permanent impact upon (them). This heartfelt response of the residents served to enable the volunteers to gain, or regain, a wholesome perspective on life.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018