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Anchoresses in the Infirmary: Life During the Pandemic

Posted on May 1, 2021, by Joy Jensen SL

Long, four story brick building with a cross above the entrance.
Above is the Infirmary where residents have lived as anchorites during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Joy Jensen SL

In March 2020, life changed for us residents of the infirmary. In medieval England anchorites and anchoresses lived alone in stone cells attached to a church and had the mission to pray for all people. The famous anchoress Julian of Norwich lived during the ravages of the Black Death pandemic, and she wrote down visions she had. We have Michelle Essex to thank for our good visions and wellness because she has followed the coronavirus guidelines from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the letter. Pauline Albin says it well: “The staff in every department have been wonderful in their services and care under Michelle Essex’s leadership.”

There are difficulties in living through the pandemic, however. One has been the social isolation. We cannot join other Community members for meals in the dining room or for Mass and services in the church. We have been confined to our rooms, no visiting other anchoresses, no visitors from the outside world. As Evelyn Houlihan says about our life, it is “like living in an aquarium with people looking in, but not being able to communicate.” The little window of the medieval anchorites has become our telephones and computers.

The only time we have left our rooms is for medical appointments, and then we quarantine for two weeks. Quarantine has meant no showers. Meals arrived on paperware. Aides delivering trays had to dress themselves in protective gowns. Thanks to Anndavid Naeger and others the gowns are beautiful creations made from bedsheets. One did not choose to leave for a medical appointment unless it was an emergency. Thankfully, just recently the guidelines no longer require quarantines after medical appointments, and showers are allowed. Families and Community members can now visit for a period of time.

Finding things to do can be a challenge. A person can watch only so much TV. We’ve had crochet and knitting, reading and puzzles. Watching birds at the bird feeders is always entertaining.

Life has been difficult. Kay DeMarea admits that “living through the pandemic was difficult.” There is a decline among some of the residents because of the lack of social interactions. Linda Drury, one of the activities’ aides adds sadly, “It’s been heartbreaking because families have not been able to visit, and the residents have not been able to socialize with each other.”

But there are cheery moments. Chris Mattingly, our pastoral minister, has done his best to provide spiritual activities to strengthen our spirits. Amanda Fogle and the aides in the Activities Department have been creative in offering interactive gatherings and serving us root beer floats and cupcakes. We all look forward to TV meetings with Michelle, who often lets us know of some loosening of the anti-virus guidelines. Sylvia Sedillo sees many positives from this time: “It is a time of peace and joy, and one where creativity has manifested itself in many ways. We are finding ways for how we can communicate with Zoom.”

We are modern anchoresses, and as holy women we share something with Julian of Norwich during this pandemic. We have the mission to pray for all people.


Joy Jensen SL

Joy is a vowed member, and she resides in the Motherhouse infirmary. Previously, Joy was a community organizer in St. Louis at St. Alphonsus Liguori “The Rock” Church, a historic Catholic church with a predominately African-American faith community. She also did some teaching at St. Louis University after receiving her doctorate. She enjoys reading American history and spy thrillers. Joy also enjoys knitting.
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