Sister Barbara Ann Zeller: modern-day foundress
Like Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her companions who sank the roots of Providence into the wilderness of Indiana 174 years ago, Sister Barbara Ann Zeller continues the course of planting Providence.
Over the past 20 years, Sister Barbara has founded in Georgetown, Indiana, a multi-faceted campus that serves peoples’ real and complex needs. At Providence House you will find reunification and strengthening homes for families in danger of separation. At The Meadows and Guerin Woods apartments, low-to-moderate-income older adults live independently with dignity. The Villas serve frail elders requiring assistance in daily living and skilled nursing care.
“Here, it is always like a rolling horizon. Sister Barbara has a way of gathering people and empowering them to fly,” says Cindy Richards, chief operating officer and property manager for the residences on the campus.
Single mom Michelle Harris and her three year-old son, Tony Pedigo, are among those empowered to fly by the Family Reunification Program which offers residents personal and group therapy, life skills sessions and case management assistance. Liz England, Psy.D., director of clinical services for Providence House, says the goal is to enable the families served, “usually single moms with 1-4 children, the services that they need to become self-sufficient.”
“The program helped me start a new chapter in my life by giving me knowledge to be a sober parent and to take care of myself and Tony,” says Michelle. “At Providence House, I made a 360 degree turn in my life and learned how to have healthy relationships. The therapists and group leaders made me accountable and gave me the structure I needed and would not let me manipulate them or slack off. I actually did not want to leave,” says Michelle. However, she is proud that she now has been on her own for many months and is caring for her son.
“Heaven before heaven,” is how Fern McClain describes Guerin Woods. She and her husband, Rev. Roy McClain, a retired minister, live in one of the apartments for low-to-moderate-income older adults. They regularly enjoy the company at the Guerin Woods Senior Center. Here they can exercise, join in activity groups and share in fellowship and a hot meal on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “My blood pressure is the lowest it has been since my high school days from the exercise I’m doing here,” Fern reports.
“Sister Barbara is the ‘foundress’ of a sturdy branch of the tree of Providence,” Assistant Director of Nursing Kelly Hampton says, “In these ministries, I see us as a team with Sister Barbara revitalizing in our age the spirit of Saint Mother Theodore. Like her, we are building to meet the needs of a community, with an eye toward what is best for residents, even if it is not always the best for the bank account. After taking a census, for example, Sister Barbara recognized that many residents of the Villas, assistant living/skilled care communities, would soon need memory care. So we are working to build a unit for them so they will not have to move when that time comes. Here, the work we do — person centered healing ministries — align with the ideas of love, mercy and justice that Sisters of Providence talk about.”
On Sept. 19 of this year, those served by Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries (PSSM), a separately incorporated Sisters of Providence ministry, marked its 20th anniversary by celebrating its past, present and future, including the capital campaign to fund the new memory care unit that is now underway. PSSM, Inc., is the managing agent of the properties owned by Guerin, Inc., and The Meadows of Guerin, Inc. Sister Barbara serves as CEO of all three corporations and collaborates with a skilled team of directors, professional staff, and volunteers in providing leadership and daily management.
Sisters of Providence Joanne Cullins (volunteer receptionist), Maria Smith (activities volunteer at the Villas), and Rose Virginia Eichmann (volunteer), contribute their skills and enthusiasm to the ministry.
“I was here in 1994, when PSSM started with care for children whose mothers were getting GEDs. I have seen it grow into the many services we offer now,” says Sister Joanne.
“Like a second family,” says Wesley “Bob” Stehle, describing the Villa that he shares with nine other elders all enjoying the security of assisted living. “It’s secure. They keep me busy. I enjoy being here.”
In the unique person-centered model of elder care provided at the Villas of Guerin Woods, compatissants (certified nursing assistants), create a family environment. Here elders can continue doing what they love to do. They read, bake, put away groceries, do jigsaw puzzles, play competitive Pokeno and Bingo. They even grow veggies on the patio to use in salads served at meals.
“I moved in just planning to stay a few days,” says Delma Lamb. “Soon, I made up my mind, without pressure from anyone, to stay. I told my family I am happier here than in many years past when I was caring for my own home.”
“It is lonesome when you live by yourself,” says Don Laffoon. “I enjoy the interaction with the other residents. We laugh and joke a lot and look out for each other.”
Compatissants Tonya Wilson and Jessica Klotz have worked in other nursing homes. They say they really appreciate the “loving home environment at Guerin Woods” where they holistically care for the elders assisting with daily tasks, preparing home cooked meals, and responding to other needs for which they are qualified to assist.
“I take care of these elders like they are my own family. I love them and my co-workers too,” compatissant Hannah Watkins says.
(Originally published in Fall 2014 HOPE magazine)