Catholic Charities Report
By Gary Bouchard
Some 40 years ago, Mary Jane Moran walked out into the parking lot of a grocery store in Manchester and noticed a couple of habited nuns who were having trouble getting their car started. Mary Jane, who studied under the Sisters of Mercy from kindergarten through St. Joseph High School for Girls in Manchester, recognized the stranded nuns as two of her former teachers. She offered them a ride back to the Warde Health Center in Windham. When they arrived, the grateful sisters asked their former student if she might consider doing even more. From that moment on, Mary Jane, already a busy mother raising seven children, began to dedicate her life to the women she calls “her sisters.” She became, and remains to this day, a central figure of hope and cheerful, life-giving activity at Catholic Charities New Hampshire’s Warde Health Center, a facility that provides assisted living as well as skilled nursing rehabilitation.
“When I realized they needed help,” Mary Jane says, “I thought, ‘Those are my sisters. I’m going to see what I can do.’ I started volunteering and then they sent me for nursing classes to learn how to help people with memory problems.” At the invitation of the sisters, Mary Jane became their first married lay Mercy associate and, eventually, Warde Health Center’s activities assistant.
The Warde Health Center was built in the 1950s as an infirmary for aging nuns and as a training ground for women entering the Sisters of Mercy. For many sisters, it was where they had their formation. “It is holy ground,” Mary Jane says, echoing the sentiments of the residents she still serves. In 2015, Catholic Charities NH bought Warde Health Center. Today, about a third of the 68 residents are retired Sisters of Mercy. Speaking of the women who taught her in school, Mary Jane says, “I have buried all of my sisters now, all but one who is 103 years old and living in Concord.”
Of the countless projects and activities Mary Jane orchestrated at Warde Health Center through the decades, one stands out as especially significant. She spearheaded a campaign to buy a 15-passenger van in order to bring aging sisters to places they had not seen for years. Mary Jane’s persistence paid off when a final gift from a significant donor yielded thousands more dollars than needed to purchase the van and went toward fuel and meals for years to come. The first trips Mary Jane organized were emotional reunions of sisters with their siblings. Then began the regular excursions. “Our sisters had not seen the ocean for a long time,” Mary Jane says, recalling the joy, song and prayer that accompanied these journeys.
Another of Mary Jane’s ideas, which she still helps organize today, is the center’s annual Tea Party, a favorite event, complete with all the accoutrements, for residents and their families. Bret Pomeroy, who is Warde Health Center’s administrator, notes, “Mary Jane is entrenched in the history and embodies the values of the Warde Health Center.” He describes how “her warm and cheerful demeanor is able to bring out the best in residents by spending time talking with them and getting to know what they like and what type of activity they would enjoy participating in. They love her.”
Bret describes how “she created a small group for a Scrabble game to bring out a few of our residents who wouldn’t otherwise participate in a large group activity. She has a couple residents involved in the flower garden that she plants for them every year. She runs bingo and a ‘chatter club’ to get people discussing things. She makes personalized posters for each resident’s door and has run the Warde gift shop for years, finding donations for items to sell, and decorating the shop. If she has heard a resident talk about something that they miss or need, she will frequently go shopping and be so excited to give it to the resident and see them happy.
“The real way Mary Jane shines through,” he adds, “is by embodying the spirit of service through her relationships with residents and staff. She notices when someone might not be having the best day and is there with a hug and smile.”
As she ages like her sisters, Mary Jane’s time at the Warde Health Center is now limited to about 10 hours a week, including daily Mass. “I saw a lot being here 40 years,” she says. “The funniest thing is I never thought of the money. I just knew my sisters needed help and that I was going to give back to them for all they gave to me.”