Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — There’s nothing like a parade filled with family and friends to cure the COVID-19 quarantine blues.
Many residents at Villa Maria Retirement Center have been connecting with loved ones through FaceTime and other messaging apps ever since social distancing took top priority. With that in mind, the staff decided to arrange some actual face-to-face time with a family parade on April 20.
Becky See, administrator at Villa Maria, said, “The parade was just what the doctor ordered to allow residents to see their loved ones in person — at a safe distance, of course.
“We knew we needed to do something for them to see their families, so we decided to surprise all the residents with a parade,” she said, and from their reactions, it was a big hit.
Comments ranged from, “Somebody really came for me?” to “I can’t believe my family is really here!” One resident was so touched by the show of love and support, she was still crying tears of joy the day after the parade.
Approximately 50 vehicles lined up at Our Lady Queen of Heaven School and traveled west on Claude Street before making the turn on Kingston Street to a block of residents wearing hats and holding handmade signs. Becky said they knew they were going to a parade; they just didn’t know it would be for them.
“We wanted it to be a surprise, so we told them we were having a parade and we asked them to all wear hats. When they asked where they were parading, I told them, ‘You will find out when you come downstairs at 2 o’clock.’”
Leading the parade on his bicycle as Master of Ceremonies was Father Trey Ange, OLQH parochial vicar, followed by Villa administration and staff members on foot ahead of the cars.
One vehicle after another, family members and friends passed by waving, blowing kisses and shouting hello’s and I love you’s along the way. Heartfelt messages were portrayed on signs that read: You are my sunshine. Our residents have heart. Who Dat resident. I love Grandma. Thank you Villa Maria for taking care of our loved 1s. Hi, Mom! We miss you and love you! God cares. We love you to the moon and back.
On the flip side, residents were holding signs (made for them by staff members) that read: Throw me some toilet paper. My family tree is full of nuts. Are these people really my relatives? We are safe. Don't worry.
Monsignor Daniel A. Torres, V.G. and pastor of OLQH, saved the best for last as he walked by blessing everyone with holy water and asked them to sing “This Little Light of Mine,” a song familiar to the residents. He assured them of his prayers.
“This parade is the best thing I have seen in a long time,” Monsignor Torres said. “It was perfect.”
Olivia Scalisi, 101, Villa Maria’s oldest resident and the 2020 Mardi Gras Queen, was reluctant to go outside in the warmer temperatures. But after the parade, she pulled her mask down, looked at Becky with a smile and softly said, “Thank you.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced residents into lockdown mode on March 12, about a week prior to the statewide “stay-at-home” order issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Becky said about 99 percent of the residents keep up with the news and understand why they can’t visit with their families in person, but she is doing all she can to reassure them they are in a safe place and that many are praying for them.
“We have several men and women throughout the Diocese, especially Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish, who volunteered to be prayer partners for not only the residents but also the staff,” said Becky. “We made sure each prayer partner was assigned at least one resident. Since some residents don’t communicate by phone, prayer partners have been sending cards; some have even brought plants. The residents have really enjoyed talking to their prayer partners.”
Two residents who are retired priests, Father Don Piraro and Father John Poerio, are doing their part to minister to the spiritual needs of the residents. Father Poerio has been writing Sunday homilies, while Father Piraro writes reflections on Thursdays since that is the usual time weekday Mass is celebrated at the retirement center. During Lent, Father Piraro also wrote meditations during Holy Week.
In the absence of public worship due to the coronavirus, a highlight every Sunday has been the Eucharistic Procession led by Monsignor Torres throughout the territory of OLQH. At least 25 of the residents go outside to watch the procession pass by, said Becky.
The day of the parade, large rented letters on the retirement center’s front lawn spelled out “Angels Work Here.” Although the parade has rounded the corner and the oversized message no longer visible, the spirit of that message remains at Villa Maria.