By Therese Fink Meyerhoff
Before the pandemic, Ella Chevis had a date once a month with a Jesuit. There was no scandal; it’s just the way Ms. Chevis approaches her ministry as director of nursing for the St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Pavilion in Grand Coteau, La. The Jesuit in question loves to go out to restaurants, so Ms. Chevis took him out to dinner every month. Because that’s what one does for family.
“The atmosphere here (at the Pavilion) is so beautiful. We try to be a family,” Ms. Chevis says.
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Pavilion is one of two facilities in the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province where senior and infirm Jesuits receive care. Ms. Chevis oversees a staff of 20 who care for about 11 men. This care goes beyond meeting physical needs. “I do a lot of little things,” she says. “We have 11 guys, and sometimes there’s 11 different toothpastes. I try to make their lives a little easier, because they have a hard time accepting that they have to be in a care facility.”
“When I came to the Ignatius Residence in New Orleans as the director in 2009, Ella was already the director of nursing,” Fr. James Bradley, SJ, recalls. “But she was much more than that. She was the manager of the facility, the personnel director, the primary caregiver of the Jesuits assigned there, the purchasing agent – to name a few of her varied activities. She showers tender, loving care on the Jesuits under her care. In my ten years as director, we have helped more than 50 Jesuits climb the Stairway to Heaven and Ella has been with each one of them as nurse, comforter, special friend and companion.
Ms. Chevis grew up in New Orleans, but her parents are from the Grand Coteau area in southwest Louisiana. They were married, and Ella was baptized, at St. Charles Borromeo, the Jesuit parish in Grand Coteau. “I bleed Jesuit,” she says with a laugh.
She first came to work for the Jesuits 18 years ago, when the infirmary was the Ignatius Residence in New Orleans. She has now served as director of nursing for about 15 years. She clearly regards her job as a vocation, a ministry.
The nursing staff cares for the men under the direction of their doctors. “Because we know the men so well, we recognize the small changes that indicate a change in needs,” Ms. Chevis explains. The doctors trust the staff’s judgment, including whether the man needs to be placed on hospice.
“The final transition can be heartbreaking, but the staff doesn’t give up on the men during the final stages,” Ms. Chevis says. “It can be tough on the staff, but we know that’s when the men need us the most. So, we act as counselors for each other.”
“We have been most blessed to have Ella as our Companion in the very special ministry we have at the St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Pavilion at Grand Coteau,” Fr. Bradley says. “I hope she is still around when it is my turn to mount those stairs.”