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Archives ‘Bringing the love and mercy of God’ to the sick

Sept. 25, 2019

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff WriterJablonski

MALONE – “When we serve the sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus.”

These words of St. Rose of Lima, spoken 400 years ago, are very much alive for Father Michael J. Jablonski, parochial vicar at St. André Bessette Parish in Malone. Most Sunday afternoons, Father Jablonski can be found at the local hospital, and any day of the week he responds to the needs of parishioners who are ill or homebound.

Since coming to Malone last September, Father Jablonski has focused considerable time and attention on this aspect of priestly ministry – a practice he developed in his previous assignment at St. Peter’s Church in Massena.

“There I was assigned to work with pastoral associates Sister Maureen Sweeney and Julia LaShomb,” the priest explains. “They were great at knowing who needed attention, and they introduced me to a lot of wonderful people – in the hospital, at home, sick folks, older folks. I really enjoy the older folks. They are honest and open.”

Father Jablonski notes that “having elderly grandparents living with us while I was growing up made it easier for me to relate to the elderly. Also, I enjoy reaching out to them. Going into their homes, I find that everyone has a life history, which they like to share.”

And this jovial priest, with his degree in history and a heart for the needs of those in front of him, is always ready to hear and appreciate their stories.

But his ministry to the sick is not confined to the homebound.

“We always have parishioners in the hospital, sometimes more, sometimes less,” Father Jablonski explains. “So, we respond to emergency calls, but also, I go there each week, check the patient list, and offer to visit individual patients. I always approach respectfully; I don’t barge in. Most say, ‘Yes. Come in and visit.’ But some do not want that yet, so it is important to ask. There can be a lot going on: fear, people fallen away from the practice of the faith, misunderstanding of what the Sacrament of the Sick really is. So many people still seem to think it is only for those taking their last breath. That prevents them from seeking out the sacrament. So I just let the Lord lead me to the folks I should visit.”

Word-of-mouth is also an important source of information for Father Jablonski.

“Someone will come up to me and let me know that their mom/dad/friend can’t come to church anymore but would like to see a priest,” he said. “I am always glad to get these requests and follow up on them. From time to time, I speak from the ambo, asking folks to let us know about people who are confined to their homes and in need of the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. Anyone who is facing surgery, or is seriously ill, is especially in need of the Sacrament of the Sick.”

Father Mike has high praise for the team of parishioners who make regular, often weekly, visits to bring Communion to those unable to come to church.

“Sue Hughes and the team actually maintain home visits to bring the Eucharist,” he points out. “Right now there are 46 people on the visitation list. The volunteers let me know when someone is ill and needs to be visited by a priest outside of my regular seasonal rotations. And the people I visit are so grateful! How they light up at God’s love and mercy, especially in the sacraments!”

The priest relates some amazing examples of such graces at work. One of them was a woman with Alzheimer’s who no longer spoke at all.

“After I anointed her,” Father Jablonski recalls, “she said to me, clear as day: ‘I am so glad you came to see me. Thank you.’ Once I was ministering to a man who was dying and ended up talking to his son for an hour. The younger man had fallen away from the Church, though he never stopped praying – thank God. He was upfront, honest, and sincere. His grandma was native, so he had the habit of gratitude. A lot happened in that hour. I heard his confession and he came back to the Church.”

Bringing people closer to Christ amid their pains and sufferings continues to inspire this priest.

“At the end of a visit, seeing that they are at peace and feeling loved and cared for is awesome,” he said. “Each has the experience of receiving the sacraments, and they just glow. Their souls come to life again! Then, too, the Church is touching their families at the same time. We are able to make inroads, and hopefully some of those families that are touched in this way will come back.”

Father Jablonski acknowledges that, when he was ordained in May 2017, he did not expect that this ministry to the sick would become such a large part of his life. Yet, he says, “This has been a happy and fulfilling part of my priesthood. The elderly population is increasing, so bringing the love and mercy of God to them in the sacraments is very important. It also gives us another way to reach the younger people in their families, to connect them with the Church. So, I did not expect this before ordination. But I am doing it and I love it!”

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