TIGARD — Each Thursday morning at Woodland Heights Assisted Living, a half dozen seasoned Catholics stroll, roll or shuffle to a meeting room. Gerlinde Lamer, pastoral associate of nearby St. Anthony Church, meets the cheery little congregation. She reads scripture and distributes Communion. After quiet reflection, the group talks about life. On this day, topics range from Lutherans to steam locomotives.
"It's a little boost we need during the week," says Maryann Austin, a Woodland Heights resident who retired from teaching religious education at St. Anthony. "I use it to pray for myself and for people who need it. It's a nice quiet time."
Faith is helpful for seniors who have left home and entered assisted living, say industry leaders. It retains something familiar and prevents isolation.
Assisted living centers like St. Anthony Village in Southeast Portland and Assumption Village in North Portland are built around Catholic churches and are clearly faith-based. But even secular locations like Woodland Heights are welcoming parish visitors more and more.
"They look so forward to seeing Gerlinde," says Leah Fox-Lewis, administrator of Woodland Heights, which has about 50 residents. "It's a great support group that helps them with their faith. It's a little community within the community. This generation are believers. I think faith is so important and people need to be able to express that openly to their peer groups. It feels so tough when you are stranded."
On Sundays, Woodland Heights offers transportation to church, including St. Anthony. On Wednesdays, there's an ecumenical Bible study that several of the Catholics attend. But getting Communion mid-week is irreplacable, they explain.
William Bousquet and his wife live together at Woodland Heights. A longtime railroad dispatcher and telegraph operator, he just gave up his driver's license and has lost a bit of his independence. The Communion service is a comfort in such times. He always leaves the prayer time feeling deeply satisfied, he says.
On hand at the Communion service was Mary Lulich. A longtime member of St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton and a mother of 12, she spent almost 30 years as the rectory cook at St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass. She also led the kitchen for the Quo Vadis Days vocations camp. "I did not expect to be able to go to church after I left home," says Lulich, having just taken Communion gratefully.
Jacqueline Alquier came to the U.S. from France at age 35. She wears a religious medal around her neck as a guard against falls. She's still healing from a broken leg in a tumble not long ago.
One regular attendee died recently. That's the way it goes here.
Taking Communion to Woodland Heights is one of Lamer's favorite parts of the work week. She got a taste of assisted living when she spent six weeks in a rehabilitation center after an auto accident.
"I know the importance of making connections," she says. "I also know what it's like to be in your room alone on a Sunday when everyone else is at church."
Each Thursday, staff and volunteers from St. Anthony fan out to take Communion to about 80 people. Help is always in short supply.
"The Body of Christ needs to go out to the Body of Christ," Lamer says.