Father Bart is a thoughtful, kind, and spiritual man who worked not only as a nursing home chaplain, but trained as a Certified Nursing Assistant prior to his four years in long-term care. He graciously consented to be interviewed for my blog, despite having moved on to other pursuits. What follows is an intimate and touching discussion of his experience at the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, a Christian facility in Manhattan, N.Y. serving people of all faiths.
(Editor’s note: The following is portion of Dr. Barbera’s interview with Father Bartolemeu. For the full post, click here.)
Why did you decide to train as a CNA? How do you think your training affected your perspective?
I am a member of a Roman Catholic Religious Order called "The Little Brothers”. We live mixed among common, ordinary people, earning our bread through manual work, sharing their daily life, their joys and sorrows, and participating in their festivals and celebrations, like Jesus in Nazareth. As a Little Brother I learned carpentry and worked as a carpenter in India for 18 years.
Called by my Religious Order to New York, I was given the work to take care of the showers at the Holy Name Center for Homeless Men on the Bowery. So, for nine years, five days a week, every morning I welcomed homeless men at the showers. In the afternoons, when all had left, I would clean the place, the showers, etc, wash the towels and keep everything ready for the next morning.
After nine years, I felt it was time for a change. I had seen many of my Brothers in the Order working as Nursing Assistants and I had always wanted to learn that skill. Moreover, I had recently followed six months of psychotherapy as part of my personal human growth, mainly to learn how I could handle a deeply seated feeling of dissatisfaction and insecurity I carry within me. During those sessions I became aware that, as a grown up man, the path to manage those feelings—in short, to take care of myself—was to take of others. "To nurture" was the catch word my fellow worker at the Holy Name Center, David Batista, would use to describe this skill. David would say that anything you do with love is "nurturing," whether it is washing the car or cleaning the windows. From him I learned that "nurturing yourself and nurturing others" is the same skill: It is to be a nurse to yourself as well as to others!
So, it was clear to me that I wanted to train as a CNA. The course itself lasted only a month. I was impressed to see how well done this course was, especially how it touched every aspect of human life, with great importance being given to the spiritual dimension.
During the gap of two months between the academic course and the State Exam we were to learn practice as a CNA. I was glad when Cabrini Nursing Home accepted me as an apprentice/volunteer CNA. I had chosen Cabrini because it was only five minutes walking distance from the place where I lived on the Lower East Side, N.Y.