Sister Debra Breese, SDS professed perpetual vows on August 13, 2017 at St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa, Wis. She began her Salvatorian journey in 2008, and eventually started working at our sponsored institution Divine Savior Healthcare (DSH) in Portage, Wis. Since then, Sr. Debra has dedicated herself to learning how dementia affects people she cares for in Tivoli assisted living center there. The legacy of the first Salvatorian Sisters who came to the U.S. to provide in-home care for elders inspires her ministry as an activities aide at Tivoli.
“I set a professional goal to learn all I could about dementia,” says Sr. Debra. “There were many avenues along my journey that helped me learn about dementia and its effects on our residents. I attended a workshop that simulated what it is like to live with dementia day to day. My reaction was one of fear, confusion and despair. I felt all alone.” Sr. Debra also had opportunities to attend workshops to better understand how touch can calm residents living with many afflictions. She says, “Touch seems to be the one thing all our residents need in their lives.”
She is also working on her certification with TimeSlips,™ an evidence-based program designed for family and professional caregivers to bridge communication gaps for persons with memory loss. Rather than focusing on remembering, TimeSlips™ encourages creativity and shifts the emphasis from memory to imagination through storytelling.
Sr. Debra says her ongoing training helps her “bring our Savior’s love to Tivoli residents.
All these things have helped me better understand how to care for our residents and to carry out our ministry by all ways and means. Bringing Jesus and his love to our residents in so many ways.”
The Mother Mary wing at Tivoli is a locked unit designed for the safety and security of residents with dementia. It is named in memory of Salvatorian Sisters’ co-foundress, Blessed Mary of the Apostles (Therese von Wüllenweber). Each day Sr. Debra helps with activities designed to foster calm and feelings of success for Tivoli residents, such as baking, crafts, music and storytelling.
Sr. Debra also tries to do her part to nurture a culture of vocations to ensure the vitality of religious life for the future. When asked about religious life, she is happy to talk about it with residents and co-workers. Among the questions they ask, is “Where do you live?” Sr. Debra says, “Most residents think I live on site at DSH, but I explain that part of being a woman religious is living in community with other sisters. Whoever I work with, whether it is staff or Tivoli residents, I have shared the steps of formation with them. They have truly been a witness to my formation as a Sister of Divine Savior.”
Sr. Debra acknowledges the Salvatorian Sisters’ legacy that goes back almost 125 years. Milwaukee’s Archbishop Katzer called on Fr. Francis Jordan in Rome and asked for sisters to travel to America to care for people in their homes. His request opened the door for Sisters of the Divine Savior to come to America. Over time, their home care ministry evolved to include Divine Savior Healthcare where Sr. Debra serves today.
“I am grateful to the first Salvatorian Sisters who came to the U.S. They paved the way for all of our ministries at DSH. From home care to skilled nursing care and assisted living, our residents have many options to choose from. Our ministry here in Portage is still evolving and Jesus is so much a part of it. All of us, including our lay staff, live the Salvatorian mission to bring Jesus to his people by all ways and means. “