By Tracey Primrose
June 10, 2021 — Cinco de Mayo, May 5, was an exceptionally beautiful day at the Jesuits West Province’s retirement/health care center in Los Gatos, California. The Jesuits there were in a festive mood. Covid-19 had robbed these men of eight of their brother Jesuits, and after months of mourning, isolating and social distancing, it felt good to sit in the sunshine to celebrate something.
All fully vaccinated, the 70 or so Jesuits who call Sacred Heart Jesuit Center home gathered for a front-lawn fiesta with more than 30 devoted health care, kitchen, housekeeping and maintenance workers who had supported them through every moment of the pandemic. Adding to the jovial atmosphere was a mariachi band, silly sombreros and plenty of tamales and tacos.
With the entire community gathered, Fr. John Privett, SJ, Sacred Heart Jesuit Center’s superior, interrupted the band. He wanted to acknowledge the contributions of a health care staffer who embodied the Jesuit ideal of being a person for others, and the timing could not be better because the next day was National Nurse’s Day.
He called Arnie Shafer, the Provincial Assistant for Health Care, to join him front and center. Then, with the assistance of Fr. Tom O’Neill, SJ, the two presented Arnie with a handmade quilt in recognition of his selfless contributions to the community during this pandemic year.
The quilt, festooned with T-Shirts from 36 of the province’s parishes, schools and universities and other apostolates, was the brainchild of Fr. O’Neill, who is the associate pastor at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in Sacramento and the superior of the Sacramento Jesuit community. Fifteen years ago, Fr. O’Neill spent several months serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a time, he says, that changed his life forever. Working with the Lakota Sioux, he learned much about their culture and remembered their tradition of honoring someone by wrapping them in a Star Quilt. He wanted to wrap Arnie in the gratitude of the province.
“While Arnie is gentle and known for his compassion, he is also a clear communicator, even in difficult situations,” says Fr. O’Neill. “It is sometimes hard for a Jesuit to accept that, because of increased health care needs, he will have to leave his community and move to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center. Yet, over the course of 10 years that I have worked with Arnie, he has made that transition so much smoother for many members of the province.”
Arnie was also a guiding force during the long months when Sacred Heart Jesuit Center was under siege because of the coronavirus. Although the province was blessed not to have had a Covid outbreak for the first eight months of the pandemic, ultimately, more than 40 Jesuits were infected and eight died during the holidays. The heaviness of Arnie’s burden was deeply felt by many in the province, including Fr. O’Neill. “My heart went out to Arnie because I know how much he cares and how hard he worked to keep the community safe. I wanted to do something to let him know how much he means to us.”
Fr. O’Neill is an artist, not a quilter, so he turned to Google to find the company that would create the quilt for Arnie. He chose Keepsake T-Shirt Quilts, an Ohio business founded in 1998 to employ deaf workers.
In requesting a T-Shirt from each of the province’s ministries, he was also honoring the men at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, who spent decades serving the students, parishioners, retreatants and others affiliated with these Jesuit works. While Fr. O’Neill knew that there would not be enough room for each of the province’s works (the quilt would be too big), he successfully solicited 36 T-Shirts, including one that simply says: I Love Jesuits.
Inscribed in the quilt is a message from the heart: Thank you Arnie for taking care of us. Your Jesuits.