As volunteers and residents alike enter through the bright blue door of the new hospice house on the campus of St. Edward Church and School, they are entering straight into the “Heart of Mary.”
St. Edward is partnering with hospice nurse Kim Derrick, founder and director of ministry for the Heart of Mary House, to see the answer to a long-time need come to fruition.
Heart of Mary House, which officially opened for an open house to parishioners of St. Edward Church following each Mass the weekend of Aug. 27-28, is a place for those nearing the end of life to be in “a safe, comfortable, and peaceful home-like setting,” according to official materials. “These residents are either not able to remain in their own homes or have no home at all. The residents may not have family who are able to care for them during this time, or their family may be experiencing circumstances that make it too difficult to provide the care the resident needs.”
Through Heart of Mary House, “we’re being the face of Christ because we’re all God’s children,” said Derrick, who is a parishioner of St. Matthew Church in Franklin. “Whether they believe that or not, we believe that, so we therefore also believe that they’re sons and daughters of Mary.
“Just as if my child needed this care and attention and love, they would be right at my heart,” she said. “And we know these people are right at Mary’s heart, too.”
Father Andy Bulso, pastor of St. Edward Church, said opening the Heart of Mary House is the newest step as the church strives to use the entire campus for its mission.
With the Pregnancy Health Center bus on the far east side of the campus and now Heart of Mary House on the west side, “we’re a witness to the gospel of life from conception to natural death,” Father Bulso said.
“Besides the main goal of literally just ministering to people who are dying and being the face of Christ for them, we’re also seeing Christ in them,” Father Bulso said, “and for many of them who won’t be Catholic, we’re giving witness to our faith.”
Realizing the need
Derrick realized the need for a place like Heart of Mary House while working with ALIVE Hospice, specifically as a liaison, where it was her job to find a place for hospice patients to go while receiving end-of-life care.
“Hospice is comfort care for those who have a prognosis of six months or less,” Derrick explained.
But while medical care is provided to hospice patients and includes several people involved in their care such as a medical director, a nurse, a home health aide, a chaplain, and a social worker, hospice doesn’t provide the housing, Derrick said, which poses a problem when a patient doesn’t have family nearby to help.
But then, in May 2021, Derrick was at a sporting event with a friend when they started talking about opening a facility or home that could meet that need.
“I thought, ‘OK, that’s never going to happen,’ but we just kept at it, kept talking about it and researching,” Derrick said, and that continued for the next year as options for a place to establish the ministry never panned out.
Meanwhile, in early 2022, Father Bulso and Steve Wilgenbusch, director of operations and administration at St. Edward, began discussing a way to utilize all the assets of the parish “to serve the Lord,” Wilgenbusch said, which included a house on the west end of the campus that was being underutilized.
In March 2022, to prepare for whatever that need might be when it arose, they began renovating the space to make it more usable. First, the upper floor was renovated into two single resident apartments, Wilgenbusch said. After the six weeks of work came to a close with one final walkthrough with the contractor, God’s providence stepped in the very next morning.
Work of the Holy Spirit
In May 2022, just as renovations were being completed, Derrick and her friend were a year into their search for a place to begin this ministry when they knocked on St. Edward’s door early one morning.
“The Holy Spirit brought us together,” Derrick said. “We knew a great place to look would be parishes because, ideally, this should be a parish ministry.”
After looking around the newly renovated space and seeing it was the right fit almost immediately, the work began to renovate the downstairs, which included electrical and plumbing repairs, a thorough cleaning and fresh coats of paint, with the help of St. Edward parishioners Pam and Doug Kimbro, and their company Kimbro Designs Inc.
And touches of Mary were implemented into the design as each of the four semi-private rooms were named after her, including Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the walls that the patients face are coated in that same bright blue – the color of Mary – of the door.
While those renovations were completed quickly, there were still issues that needed to be addressed before opening the doors, including finding a live-in attendant to be present.
“Everybody was down to the wire, thinking ‘What are we going to do?’” Derrick said. “I just said, ‘I know that God knows what we need, God knows what this person needs that’s going to be helping us, and he’s going to lead us to them, whoever it is.’”
That person was Teresa Gamez, a registered nurse, who was in town from Missouri visiting a friend.
‘God always has a plan’
When Gamez came to Nashville at the beginning of August, she had already been through an interesting few months as God led her out of discernment for religious life just a few months prior.
“God made it 100 percent clear that I was to leave,” Gamez said. Although she didn’t know why, “God always has a plan,” she said.
Then, during an eight-day retreat she heard God tell her she needed to find an apartment and go into hospice nursing, something she’d always had a passion for since nursing school, but never got the chance to do. Telling her friend this, he passed along the information to Father Bulso who connected her with Derrick. Within a few days of that initial meeting, Gamez found herself back in Missouri, packing up her things and moving to Nashville.
“The Holy Spirit hijacked me,” Gamez said. “I only had a very fuzzy, general idea of what this was, but I knew God was up to something.
“God led me to realize my desire was to be one with those I serve. I want to be a light to the world, to further the kingdom of God, and to bring God’s love to others, and that’s what I’m hoping to do here,” she said. “There’s nothing special about me. I simply have a gift that God gave me, and I am 100 percent sure this is why God called me to leave the convent.”
Finding Gamez was proof that it was all about God’s timing for the Heart of Mary House, Wilgenbusch said.
“It’s God’s providence that controlled the timing of this,” Wilgenbusch said. “We think we did, and we tried to. We rushed to have it renovated by the first of July because Kim would be coming off maternity leave. Then, for various reasons, we weren’t able to start in July or early August, but, then again, Teresa wasn’t in our lives yet.
“By allowing God and his timing to take control is when everything fell into place,” he said.
“The more we stepped aside, the more God did,” Derrick added. “It’s really been a tremendous lesson for me to know that we are just the clay. God is the potter and if we just let go and surrender, he’s forming this thing … and it happened exactly the way it was supposed to.”
‘I see the need’
Once renovations were complete and that all important need of a live-in attendant was found, it was time to bring in the public, as the open house was met with an overwhelming response from parishioners.
Tsega Andemicael, a parishioner of St. Edward and a nurse of 12 years, walked through the doors in tears after Sunday morning Mass.
“I see the need. I know there are people who want to help but don’t have the means or don’t even know how,” Andemicael said. “For somebody to come up with this kind of plan to help others at the end of their life journey, is something that I cannot express my appreciation for enough.”
Stacy Schorr, a regular attendee of Cathedral of the Incarnation and a member of the Seven Sisters Apostolate praying for the bishop, heard about it from a friend who thought Schorr should be a volunteer. And Schorr didn’t hesitate to connect with Derrick to talk.
“In the last five years, there have been a lot of deaths in my family. I was the one who was always with them. I was the one who prayed with them. I was the one who sat with them. I was the one who comforted them,” Schorr said. “To be with people when they’re dying, I think it’s the most sacred thing.
“In this world, we wear so many masks, but when we get closer to death, it’s like the mask completely comes off,” she said. “It’s so pure and the walls are gone. All of a sudden, they surrender and let go. All of a sudden, forgiveness comes.”
With everything in place, Derrick says she expects to have their first resident within the next few weeks, having already established a connection with ALIVE Hospice who will reach out when there is a need.
She said they chose ALIVE because of their nonprofit status and their commitment to provide care to anyone who needs it, no questions asked.
“That’s the kind of relationship that we need,” Derrick said. “The purpose of this house is really to show the resident the dignity and the respect and the love in order for them to have a happy death” regardless of race, gender, religion or age.
“And it’s two-fold,” she added. “It’s for them, but it’s also to give the parishioners and others the opportunity to know and love and serve the Lord.”
“The hope for this ministry is to provide as much salvation for those who are being served as those who are serving,” Wilgenbusch added.
And Derrick said she hopes it’s just the beginning.
“We want to be witnesses to other parishes, so that they can see that this model can be replicated,” Derrick said. “St. Edward is leading the way. It’s incredible.”
Ways to help
Heart of Mary House is currently taking names of interested volunteers. Volunteers help with household needs including cleaning, cooking and laundry as well as hands-on care for the residents if desired such as companionship, reading to patients, or praying with them.
For more information or to sign up to be a volunteer, visit https://stedward.org/heart-of-mary.
Heart of Mary House is made possible by the financial support of the community through donations, as all patients receive care free-of-charge.
“The Lord provided funding to get this started, but we need the support of financial partners, we call them Angels, to meet the cost of 24/7 care and feeding up to four residents,” totaling nearly $7,000 per month, Derrick said. “It is our hope and prayer that God will move the hearts of his people to commit to a monthly contribution of $25, $50 or $100 on an annual basis.”
Interested donors can visit https://osvhub.com/stedwards/giving/funds or mail a check to St. Edward Church, 188 Thompson Lane, Nashville, TN, 37211, and write “House of Mary” on the memo line.