SOAR grant pays for wheelchair van for elderly Sisters

SOAR to the rescue! When Sr. Mary Carol McClenon uttered those words, she wasn’t kidding.

Upsetting circumstances prompted Sr. Mary Carol McClenon to seek a wheelchair van for Sisters at St. Joseph Residence. It started when cancer returned to Sr. Patricia Touissaint and wracked her body with pain. Unable to walk, she needed a wheelchair van to transport her to a medical appointment. The $500 rental van got Sr. Patricia to the appointment on time, but was 45 minutes late picking her up. She was drained by the time she got home. When Sr. Patricia needed to be transported for daily radiation treatments, the wheelchair van wasn’t aways available to rent.

The expense and unreliability of the wheelchair van had become a recurring source of frustration for meeting the needs of Sr. Patricia. Then, Sr. Marita Aumiller’s brother died last winter and Sr. Marita could not attend the funeral because she didn’t have the agility or stamina to pivot into a car.

“That was the last straw for me,” said Sr. Mary Carol, Local Leader of St. Joseph Residence and the Baltimore Community.

“Sr. Marita’s situation pushed me over the edge. I had to go in search of a wheelchair van for our aging Sisters,” she said.

Sr. Claire Marie Doyle test rides the new wheelchair van.

Sr. Mary Carol applied for a grant through an organization called SOAR (Support our Aging Religious). The agency read the compelling proposal asking for a wheelchair van and understood the need. SOAR donated $25,000 so Sisters of the Good Shepherd could purchase a used wheelchair van for St. Joseph Residence. The vehicle was delivered to the convent on July 20.

Van helps Sisters maintain quality of life

Having the van will help Sisters maintain dignity and quality of life. It will allow them to get to medical appointments more easily and stay engaged in life, according to Sr. Mary Carol.

Sr. Marita Aumiller, for example, has spent her religious life actively engaged in social services ministries. Countless characters from divergent paths have orbited her sphere. Her sociability suited her as a Group Mother to troubled girls, social services caseworker and Director of Social Services. When she worked in adoption programs, she developed warm personal relationships with the adoptive parents on the waiting list.

Sr. Marita has lived and worked in Maryland, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. When she retired from adoption work, Sr. Marita returned to Baltimore, where she pursued a ministry of pastoral visiting, phone calls and correspondence. In her aging years, she bounced back from a broken hip but failed to outwit the arthritis that was slowing her down.

Sr. Marita needed knee replacements but was unable to have the surgery because of cardiac concerns. She is 94 years old and now in a wheelchair full-time. Getting into a car had become laborious and painful for her, which had curbed her zeal for going anywhere.

Thank God for SOAR

“Thank God for SOAR.” said Sr. Mary Carol. Sr. Patricia can travel to doctor’s appointments comfortably now and Sr. Marita is once again looking forward to outings.”

The Sisters are preparing to leave Baltimore, where Good Shepherd has served the community for more than 150 years. Having the wheelchair van will allow Sr. Marita to ride with the other Sisters as they explore places they might call home. For the socially engaged Sister, that will mean much more than looking at a brochure. It will mean empowerment.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Sr. Marita.

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website