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 | By Kathy Schmugge

Parishes and families benefit from caring for the elderly

The 2020 census reported that 16.3% of South Carolina’s population is over age 65. The report estimated that the percentage will climb to 18.2% by 2025 — that’s over one million Palmetto State residents. And, the number of our residents 85 and older is predicted to grow to be 2.3% of the population.

People are living longer; this is good news because families and communities can benefit from the experience and wisdom of our elders. All elderly deserve the care and attention of the Catholic community whether they are blessed with good health or struggling with illness. Setting aside a day for the world to reflect on the needs of our seniors is a way to show gratitude and focus on the profound contributions made by the previous generations.

Pope Francis announced the First World Day for Grandparent and Elderly in 2021. He selected the Sunday closest to the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim (June 26), the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. The pope said that Sts. Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who transmitted their faith and love for God — expressed in the warmth and love of family life — down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world and to us.

The fourth World Grandparent Day will be Sunday, July 28, this year. Its theme is from the Psalms, “Do not cast me off in my old age” (71:9). The Lord hears this prayer from many grandparents and elderly who find themselves in need of companionship and care.

Seniors, even if their health is failing, can provide an opportunity for Catholic families to grow in holiness. Care of the elderly teaches compassion to children, and gives a parish community the opportunity to rally around caregivers, providing them with respite and assistance, as many of our churches currently do. The response of each parish to those who take care of their elderly family members is not a vague “call if you need anything.” It is and must be something more concrete: “What day can I bring over dinner? What is your favorite meal?”

An example of this call to respond at the parish level is a recent encounter at St Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville. An 80-year-old woman, “Tina,” found herself alone and homeless. She’d traveled to South Carolina from New Jersey, hoping the lower cost of living would allow her to survive on her $1,000 a month from Social Security. She was exiting Mass on Easter Sunday, holding a suitcase in hand containing all her earthly belongings, when a parishioner noticed her.

Tina never married and has no children. She was recently taking care of her brother, but when he died, she literally had no place to call home. When the parishioner found out that Tina was alone, she and her husband invited Tina to join their family for Easter dinner. They also contacted the larger Catholic community to make sure Tina had a place to stay. Tina finally found a distant relative who agreed to take her in.

Imagine the lesson of charity learned by the children of these good Samaritans by their care of an elderly stranger.

Another illustration of selfless care and mercy comes from a family in the Midlands. It began with a painful divorce. “Lisa” was overcome with grief and would disappear for days on end, leaving her five middle school-age and teen children to care for themselves. Often, they did not have enough food or clothing, and they depended on charity from neighbors.

Many years later, Lisa was struggling with her health and could no longer care for herself. One of her daughters and her husband welcomed Lisa into their home, even though there were painful memories of abandonment. They built an addition to their home and the family, especially Lisa’s grandchildren, lavished her with love and attention. Lisa returned to the Catholic Church after more than two decades away, and the whole family grew in their faith. Healing and forgiveness of the painful past was given purpose in this time and until Lisa’s death.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates National Grandparents Day, held the first weekend after Labor Day, for churches in the U.S. in addition to the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. The national event is Sept. 8 this year. Part II of this series, to be published in September, will focus on how seniors are making a difference in spreading the faith and encouraging others to follow Christ’s call to evangelize regardless of age or health.

St. John Paul II said the “life of each of us is limited and fragile, we are consoled by the thought that, by virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death itself. Moreover, faith opens us to a ‘hope that does not disappoint’ (Rom 5:5).”

There are so many stories of heroic love and healing that can be shared. May these illustrations of Christ-like care for grandparents and elderly continue to grow in the Diocese of Charleston, especially for the people who matter most to our elders.

Kathy Schmugge is the director of the Office of Family Life and senior director of discipleship for the diocese. Email her at