By Jennifer Brinker, St. Louis Review
For more than three decades, Sister Connie Dryden was a teacher in Kenya and Uganda. In many ways, it was a different way of life from her American upbringing. Besides living simply, she was working with a younger community. More than half of the population was under 15 years old, she said - a society affected by lack of resources, disease and the casualties of war.
Sister Dryden wasn't just teaching, though. She was ushering these young people through a door of opportunity and empowering them with the freedom and independence to achieve success and build lives for themselves.
Upon her return to the United States two years ago, the member of the Society of the Sacred Heart wasn't certain what she wanted to do with her future. "I wanted to be able to do something for somebody else," said the 75-year-old. "I started looking around, and I was surprised at the number of senior citizen (facilities) there were. I saw there was something I could do" to minister to older adults -- and maybe help them maintain their independence, too.
Last summer, Sister Dryden took on a part-time position with Seniors Helping Seniors, a national program that matches seniors with other seniors seeking assistance with in-home care. The organization has two offices in the St. Louis area. Sister Connie connected with the office based in west St. Louis County and was soon paired with 83-year-old Rosella Curtis.
Curtis' daughter Mary Jackson, chair of the business department at St. Joseph's Academy, was seeking someone who could be a companion to her mom, who has a form of dementia, during the day while Jackson is at work. Sister Connie visits five days a week, helping with meals and other needs.
"I didn't want to put her in a nursing home, and I can't afford to leave work quite yet," said Jackson, who was going back and forth between her house and her mom's until her mom finally moved in with her in 2010. Jackson said she's also received support from her employer, which has given her time off to care for her mom's needs.
Sister Dryden and Curtis immediately hit it off. The two discovered their youth was only separated by a stretch of Page Avenue that runs through north St. Louis City and County. Curtis grew up in Overland and raised her four children there; Sister Connie, one of 13 children, grew up in the old St. Mark's Parish at Page and Academy avenues.
The two have found it easy to talk to one another because of their closeness in age. Jackson said that was something that was lacking with other in-home care providers she tried in the past. Sister Dryden shared stories of working at the old Berland Shoe Co. near Midtown. Curtis likes talking about her past work as a seamstress at the former Mary Muffet Inc. on Locust Street Downtown, where she worked before she stayed home to raise her children.
While her new-found ministry is very much different from her former life in education, Sister Dryden's work with seniors fits well with the charism of the Society of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1800 by St. Madeleine Sophie Barat and brought to the United States by St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in 1818. Sister Connie entered the religious community in 1957.
Members of the Society are committed to discover, live and announce God's love through the service of education for transformation, in diverse ministries, particularly addressing the needs of children, young people, women and those in society who are marginalized.
"Our aim is to show the love of the heart of Jesus," she said. "So I think this fits in very well."
(This story originally appear in the St. Louis Review, which granted permission for its re-use. )