CHRISTUS St. Joseph Villa celebrates 60 years

Friday, Jul. 13, 2007
CHRISTUS St. Joseph Villa celebrates 60 years + Enlarge
CHRISTUS St. Joseph Villa residents and guests assemble in the chapel awaiting remarks honoring the sisters and their mission by guest speakers.

by Jessica Blake, intern

and Christine Young

Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — "Times have changed since the first days at CHRISTUS St. Joseph Villa," said Incarnate Word Sister Mary Stephen Guiry, who works in spiritual care at the Villa.

More than 1,000 guests made up of contributors and people with whom they partner in the community were invited to celebrate the Villa’s 60th anniversary June 21. The Villa was founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1947.

"Bishop Duane G. Hunt, of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, went to the sisters’ mother house in Houston, Texas, in 1945, to persuade the sisters to come to Utah," said Galen Ewer, chief executive officer of the Villa.

After receiving a second request from Bishop Hunt in 1946, Incarnate Word Mother Mary Elizabeth O’Neill promised to help. The following year, the Moroni Heiner residence at 1910 South 500 East was purchased by the sisters for $37,500 with Bishop Hunt contributing one-third of the cost. It was agreed the name "Villa" rather than "Home" would give the institution distinction and dignity.

"Nothing was easy at the time because the home needed a lot of remodeling and cleaning, but the sisters brought with them a ‘can do’ spirit they instilled in the rest of us over the years," said Ewer.

"Every time I hear Galen give an explanation of the mission and spirit of the Villa, I am ever grateful for its presence," said Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. "I think Galen continues to reflect the vision of the sisters’ mission."

Msgr. Fitzgerald is the former chairman of the Villa board of directors and continues as a member emeritus of the board.

Ewer said for the first few years, the sisters provided all the care and service to the residents. Over the years, new services have been introduced, new buildings have been constructed, and lay professionals have become committed to the sisters’ initial mission.

"In 1959, the north building was opened," Ewer said. "It is nice to be able to mark things by a building, but more importantly the sisters began to call on lay people and volunteers to provide assistance.

"In 1960, St. Joseph Villa became a corporation," said Ewer. "The sisters requested lay people become members of the board to help determine how they would relate to the broader community and care would be given.

During the 1980s, the sisters involved students from Westminster College and the University of Utah to provide services in social work, nursing, recreational therapy, administration, and other areas.

"We began to look at what type of services we could offer that would be different, special, and fulfill a need," said Ewer. "We began caring for HIV patients in the Shalom apartments. These patients had been ostracized by family, friends, and others, and had no place else to go. We also started a parish ministry with the help of the Holy Cross Sisters to reach out to seniors who were home-bound."

In the 1990s a special care unit for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia was added to the Villa. Also added was a child care and senior day care center.

"At least twice a day the children and seniors come together for organized activities," said Ewer. "The children call the older adults their grandparents and the two generations develop relationships they might not otherwise have.

"In 2000, a new end of life care program called the CHRISTUS Marian Center was developed," Ewer said. "In 2006, we were given the Touch Stone Award by the CHRISTUS Health Care System for our innovative and successful program."

Jennifer Gibbons, board president said, "The volunteers mean everything to the staff at the Villa when you think about all the activities they provide. The residents would have a long day without the activities and without the volunteers coming around to visit them. The volunteers provide activities such as trips to the zoo, the Festival of Trees, feast day celebrations, and the annual barbecue in the park. The volunteers run the gift shop, have weekly sing-a-longs, games, arts and crafts, a monthly birthday party, and various holiday parties.

Gibbons said the volunteers host an annual luncheon to raise funds for residents who are in need of items such as wheelchairs, dentures, and hearing aids.

Doris Poirier, a resident in the senior apartments said, "You can be as busy or as idle as you want to be. I have only lived here for four months and I have had something to do every day."

Volunteer Shirley Moriani said, "I would be lost if I didn’t come here to volunteer. These people are just like family."

Sr. Mary Stephen said, "Today we look back on the 60 years with gratitude and we look forward to the next 60 years with hope and confidence. Perhaps, years from now, people just like you and me will be here to celebrate the past we are making possible today."

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