Care for the elderly brothers

Fr Peter Otillio and brothers from the Province of Nigeria

The General Chapter of Trogir in 2013 exhorted all the Provinces, Vice Provinces and Vicariates “to develop policies and seek to procure sufficient means to tend to, accompany and care for the elderly and sick brothers” (n° 77). It also petitioned all communities “to value the wisdom they bring from a life of experience in the preaching mission of the Order” (n°78).

The Master of the Order, Brother Bruno Cadoré and the General Council addressed this issue during the Plenary sessions of February 2015. Each regional Socius has been asked to speak about how this is being undertaken in his region. We share here the experiences of Africa.

Dominican entities in Africa are young and some are provincial vicariates which rely on the policy of their mother provinces. The brothers are young with an average age of 40. Some of them don’t have an experience in the care of elderly brothers. However, others have started to experience the challenges of taking care of brothers who are beginning to hit 70 years and those who turned 80. The experiences are different from one entity to another and from one country to another.

The main challenges with regard to our elderly brothers concern retirement homes, pension, and health insurance. There is no retirement home for them. Nursing homes or Old Peoples’ Homes are not common in most of the African countries. Where there is a state pension, it is insignificant. Rich people go abroad for better treatment, the poor who are the majority of the population are abandoned to their sad fate. Female religious congregations or other Church institutions are sometimes the only places which take care of elderly people in many African countries.

Brothers try to get into some local health insurance programs but the attempts fail because the health insurance schemes are mismanaged by the managers of the insurance companies; so brothers have lost confidence in such schemes. Each entity tries to find its own way, some by creating a retirement support fund into which they put money, for example a monthly fee of 5,000 Fcfa (8 euros) for each priest and cooperator bother in solemn vows. Others have created a solidarity fund into which they put a monthly saving of 10% from the salary of the brothers and other fees. One entity is building a new house within a priory with facilities on the ground floor to help older brothers to live there comfortably.

Indeed, caring for elderly brothers does not mean only having health insurance, retirement pension or sending them to Nursing homes but living with them in our communities, showing them our love, valuing their life experience. In this way, the African entities are doing well with regard to their culture of respect for the elders, and the importance of the family. They ensure that the older brothers are assigned in formation houses where through their mere presence, their commitment to prayer life and to community life, they play a very positive role in the life and training of young brothers; the latter surround them with love. They ensure also that the older brothers are kept in the communities where they retired. They also value the celebrations of the Jubilees of the elder brothers. Communities organize themselves to create moments of encounter and sharing where they allow the elderly one share the stories of their lives, their vocation, and talk about their experiences in the Order to the young ones. One sees in this, the transmission of tradition, history and wisdom.

During the February plenary, the Master of the Order underlined some important aspects of the care of elderly brothers, especially to be attentive to their spiritual needs. Brother Bruno also called our attention to ongoing formation in terms of helping young brothers to prepare themselves for the old age. He invited us to avoid a negative and moral regard for our older brothers although some may become complicated and resistant to any change in the community. They deserve respect and we have to help them to be witnesses of truth.

Pope Francis, who has dedicated two General Audiences to catechesis on the elderly, called our attention to old age which “contains a grace and a mission, a true vocation of the Lord.” The Pope insists on the “respect for the wisdom of the elderly” and on their “testimony of fidelity”. Against “the disposable culture” Pope Francis recalls “a wealth of wisdom in the tradition of the Church, which has always supported a culture of closeness to the elderly, a disposition to affectionate and supportive solidarity in this final part of life.” May we “awaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel a living part of their community.”

fr. Gabriel Samba, O.P.


(18 March 2015)