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Fine feathered friends

Fine feathered friends - (31-08-2021)

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PHOTO: Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration Mary Joy Heinlein (left) and Joy Ann Wege enjoy watching the birds flit and fly around the aviary inside the congregation’s Our Lady of Rickenbach health care facility in Clyde, Mo.

It’s a quiet Thursday morning at Our Lady of Rickenbach, the health care facility for the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri.

Most of the Sisters have retired to their rooms after breakfast to pray or to relax before gathering for prayer at 11 a.m. in the chapel.

That is, it’s mostly quiet.

There is a bustle of activity centered around the large, brightly lit structure at the north end of the main living room where a flurry of tweets and chirps escape. It’s the Sisters’ aviary, a Home Sweet Home for more than a dozen small and brilliantly feathered birds flitting and flying. Their energetic presence is a vital part of the Sisters’ daily life at Our Lady of Rickenbach.

“The aviary dates back to the very beginning of OLR and was part of its original design,” Administrator Sister Cathleen Marie Timberlake, OSB said from a comfy chair nearby where she watches the birds. “It was always our goal to make this place homey for our Sisters.”

Senior health advocates say aviaries placed in nursing homes can help lower rates of depression or stress in residents. Watching the birds and listening to their singing can provide a calming effect on those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and it also benefits staff as it gives them time to take care of other duties or spend more time with a particular patient.

At OLR the birds are rotated on a quarterly basis when the aviary is professionally cleaned, according to Sister Cathleen Marie. Each bird placed inside the aviary at that time is tagged, so any bird that doesn’t have a tag indicates it was born in the Sisters’ aviary.

“See those two little ones right there?” Sister Joy Ann Wege, OSB points out in a quiet voice where she sits in a wheelchair next to the aviary glass. “Those are the mourning dove twins that were just born a few weeks ago. I can sit here and watch the parents feed them.”

Sister Mary Joy Heinlein bounces into the room and offers greetings in a sing-song voice that matches the liveliness of the birds. She shares a kind “Hello!” with them and loves watching the birds dance and play with each other.

“When the light comes on in the mornings they are immediately bright-eyed,” Sister Mary Joy remarked. “They jump and fly and hop around. They are so happy, and it’s beautiful to see. If you ever feel tired in the morning, just watch them.” She clapped her hands and added, “They are so full of pep!”

Staff handle the daily care and feeding of the birds, leaving the Sisters free to admire.

“By evening, several birds will group together on a branch and go to sleep,” Sister Mary Joy said. “Others go into their little nests or bird houses.”

Sister Joy Ann, her words accompanied by a miming motion of putting her head beneath her arm said, “They put their heads under one of their wings like this and fall asleep that way.”

This idea of a home-within-a-home is one that Sister Cathleen Marie is especially fond of, understanding its value as a way to bring peace and comfort to the Sisters under her care.

“These women have spent their entire lives taking care of others, praying for others and spending time in fellowship,” she said. “Here they continue to do so with each other and also with our fine feathered friends.”