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UD in the Community: Gospel of Life Dwellings Affirm Lives


In the 62 years since its founding, UD has put down roots and grown into this shifting Irving soil in more ways than current students or far-flung alumni often realize: Irving and its surrounding cities are increasingly populated by alumni, faculty, staff and their families. In neighborhoods, in businesses, in schools, in churches, in other organizations throughout these cities: there you will find UD. In “UD in the Community” stories, we explore these connections

Tia is 97 years old, and she misses her babies: she’s outlived almost all of them. I sit next to her on the bed, holding her hand; she doesn’t speak my language, and I’m far from fluent in hers, but I, too, have a mother’s heart, so in that there is a connection.

Although she can no longer see, she does her best, like the mother she still is, to ensure the comfort of those around her from her perch on the edge of her bed. She is one of three elderly residents of St. Adelaide in Grand Prairie, one of Gospel of Life Dwellings’ two locations; the other, St. James, is in Oklahoma City.

GOLD aims to provide a home environment — less institutional, more like a family — particularly for those elderly without alternatives — lacking family or finances. The residents are referred by Catholic Charities, hospitals, churches, word of mouth and similar sources. First conceived by Joe Flaherty, M.D., BA ’86, a geriatrician, the idea for these homes was embraced and implemented — and is continuously sustained — by numerous UD alumni, in particular Sister Maria Faulkner, BA ’86, who drives from Oklahoma City to Grand Prairie and back again each week; Louisa Mox, BA ’86, a physical therapist who lives at St. Adelaide and runs the household; and former UD trustee Dan Flaherty, BA ’83 MBA ’84, who funded and oversaw the building of St. Adelaide, which is a simple but well-constructed house located on a lot adjacent to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church — perfect because the residents (the two who are Catholic, at least) can be wheeled over for Mass — and for Tia, who speaks only Spanish, a Mass in Spanish is available.

“Not only do we care for the residents, but often they care for us,” says Mox. Tia, for example, offers to share her food with her, like she might once have done with one of her six children; she worries that Mox is cold, or tired.

“Tia thinks she's taking care of me,” explains Mox. “She has such tenderness, and it's very calming.”

Like Tia’s perspective that she is the caretaker rather than the other way around, Mox has learned that all of the residents have their particular perspectives on life and on their interactions and relationships with others; age does not take this away.

“By interacting with them, I learn to honor every person with whom I come into contact; everyone has a prism through which they’re looking that colors their perspective,” says Mox.

We sit on a homemade bench outside, sun-warmed boards supported by cinder blocks — built by some of the children who’ve come out to volunteer. There are also vegetable and flower gardens planted by other volunteers. The vegetable gardens supply carrots, greens beans, okra and Swiss chard for nourishing meals. A cat crawls into my lap; Mox plays Frisbee with her enthusiastic Australian shepherd as she answers my questions.

“They teach us about human frailty, honoring each other and learning to accept help — about humility,” says Mox. “It takes humility for them to take our help, and we must provide it with humility.”

The list of UD alumni, faculty and students who are and have been involved with GOLD since its beginning in 2013 is extensive. 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award winner Tim Gehan, BA ’82, founder and former CEO of Gehan Homes, assisted with the installation of the HVAC system as well as with the roofing. Mox’s daughter, Maddie Hoelscher, BA ’19, and other current UD students volunteer; some supervise confirmation students as they work toward fulfilling volunteer hour requirements.

The hope, as Sister Maria explains, is that GOLD is creating a replicable model that can be reproduced in other communities, learning to care for our elderly in the “culture of encounter” promoted by Pope Francis.

“It’s a shared model of collaboration,” she says.

The life is simple, with no cell phones at the table during meals and the TV only on for specific reasons. They gather each morning and evening for a Holy Hour and at midday for the Liturgy of the Hours. Like a family, meals are taken together and chores shared.

“It’s about accompanying life’s journey; we stop and help each other, sharing God’s goodness and cherishing the gift of each moment and each life,” says Sister Maria. “Also, making a house a home takes each person in that house.”

Volunteers are always needed, especially “LifeGuards,” the live-in volunteers “who dedicate themselves to living the joy of the Gospel through a ministry of compassionate presence and humble service.” These LifeGuards provide interaction, investing their energy into simply being present in the give-and-take of daily life with other people, while themselves receiving personal formation based on the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. Groups of students of all ages come out for two or three hours, to build benches or plant gardens or paint, whatever might be needed. This might also include pre-med or nursing students who want to help with and learn about the specific health challenges of the elderly.

“We need others coming to help us — more people to call on when we have a simple need, like when I have an errand to run,” says Mox.

For volunteers, there is a focus on discipleship and an opportunity for vocational discernment.

“People who are willing to invest a little time will be amazed at what they get back,” says Mox. “It’s healing and transformative.”

Visitors are always welcome, too. For example, Randy, BA ’86, and Lisa, BA ’93, Irlbeck have brought  their family out for “Sunday Sundaes.” Sometimes there are cookouts, some impromptu; Mox, according to Sister Maria, is very good at barbeque. They host an All Saints’ Day celebration. The oldest resident, Sandy, who is 99 and has no children or grandchildren of his own, especially loves it when children visit.

“It’s about life shared,” says Sister Maria, “journeying together, and growth — and it’s very intentional. God really put it together: grassroots, faith-based, in the community. God is the author of life; we are the stewards.”

To honor the 99th birthday of Sandy, who is a World War II veteran, a flagpole is being installed in the yard. As Sandy himself has said, “It’s really hard, getting old; I don’t like it, but I have to go with it.” As those involved with GOLD have learned from the elderly residents of St. Adelaide and St. James, age does not take away one’s inherent dignity and unique personality. These people who have been on this earth for nearly a century are very much still individuals with dreams, memories and perspectives on the world, and they have much to teach us about how to live.

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In the photos: Top: St. Adelaide's oldest resident, Sandy, and his dog, Maggie. Body of story: At St. Adelaide (L to R): Dan and Dannie, BA ’81 MBA ’82, Flaherty; Leveda, Sister Maria and William Faulkner. Leveda and William Faulkner are parents of three UD alumni, including Sister Maria and her brother Mark, BA '84, who has also been involved with GOLD. Photos courtesy of Sister Maria Faulkner.

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