In an effort to better understand the significance of this Remembrance Day, we sat down to talk with one of our long-time staff members, Sister Marcella Jordan.
Working at Trinity Washington University as a residence director and moderator of the service council starting in 1965, Sr. Marcella was responsible for arranging service opportunities for students. She recalls going to Potter’s House where they held “Prayer Politics Groups” every Wednesday and speaking with local politicians on issues the poor faced in the neighborhood. Sr. Marcella was familiar with Dr. Janelle Goetcheus through her work as a social worker on Columbia Road. So, in 1979, when she heard that Dr. Janelle Goetcheus was looking for a social worker at Columbia Road Health Services, Sr. Marcella “kept bugging her until she answered [Sr. Marcella’s] calls” and got the job.
Sr. Marcella recalls that the tradition of All Saints’ Day at Christ House was started by Sister Mary Louise Norpel, who was adamant about remembering and honoring each patient’s memory. She insisted everyone should stand and share something about the patients whose names were read aloud. For Sr. Marcella, the most memorable moment of the first All Saints’ Day was when Dr. Janelle Goetcheus stood up to share about a patient who had passed away saying:
These people shouldn’t even be on this list. They shouldn’t have died. These deaths were avoidable.
The health care system had failed these individuals and this is why the work at Christ House is still so crucial today.
Each All Saints’ Day, we pause to remember the patients, Kairos members, staff, and long term volunteers who have come to Christ House over the years and have since passed away. We take turns reading their names out loud and after each name, the community responds in unison, “present.” This is a sacred moment to give memory to their lives, acknowledge their presence which lives on with us, and recognize their importance as part of our community.
While Sister Marcella wishes she were able to gather and shake hands for Sunday Services, she shared that the virtual All Saints’ Day service organized by Rev. Allen Goetcheus and Chaplain Charles Anderson-Gray was “wonderful.” She says, “Bill Hepler, [one of Christ House’s Case Managers], played the piano…we weren’t singing but everyone knew the words in their head.”
Even when gathering virtually, Sr. Marcella shared her gratitude for all the staff members that made the service possible. Christ House’s Administrative and HR Manager Marisa Pashkin played an important role in organizing the virtual service, and shares:
Resuming services for All Saints’ Day was very important to us. We’ve been having the service since 1986 and we remember every person who has passed through Christ House since we’ve opened. In a year with so much loss and uncertainty, being able to come together, even virtually, to remember our friends was healing. Community is such a large part of Christ House’s mission and it’s nice to reclaim some of that however we can.