In a community that’s rich in spiritual diversity, Dr. Mark McDonough, the chaplain at Eastcastle Place senior living community in Milwaukee, defines his role by whatever is currently being sought rather than any written job description. “I get to make it up as I go along,” he quipped. “Seriously, I listen to what the residents talk about and look for, and then adapt to that.
McDonough, who has been the pastor at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee for 18 years, took the position at Eastcastle Place about two years ago. “Years ago, I would come over a couple of times a month and lead an afternoon service. Then for ten years, they had their own chaplain who took care of that. When he retired, I came on board.”
Part of what McDonough does on a regular basis at Eastcastle Place includes leading Sunday afternoon worship services as he did previously. “Eastcastle Place was originally Protestant and so they’ve maintained the tradition of Sunday afternoon worship, with the service being ecumenical or multi-denominational. It’s open to any resident, as well as their family and friends,” he said.
McDonough is also available for any resident experiencing an issue or crisis in which he can lend an ear. He also reads and discusses bible stories with people in the healthcare center at Eastcastle Place.
Other areas of his leadership are less well-defined, but every bit as important. “Under the umbrella of spirituality, not everyone wants Christianity, so I need to speak in multiple spiritual languages,” he said. “For those who don’t identify with Christianity, I offer spiritual exercises that sometimes accompany physical exercises. For instance, I’ll encourage a resident to walk on the treadmill and focus on a spiritual discipline, getting the value of meditation while walking.”
McDonough also teaches a tai chi class. He explained, “I had been teaching tai chi for 15 years and decided to introduce it here at Eastcastle Place. It’s excellent for balance and focus and being mindful.”
“I’m a little bit like a military or college chaplain. There’s a diverse population here. The expectation is that you’re steeped enough in a tradition, that you can be relevant in any religion. I’m steeped in a Christian tradition and had to learn about other practices,” said McDonough. “The understanding is that I’m conversant enough to relate to meaning, value, relationship and integrity, who you are, and your relationship to the universe. I have to be somewhat multi-languaged spiritually to be the chaplain for everyone here.”
McDonough said that Calvary Presbyterian Church of which he is the pastor is very different than Eastcastle Place. “It’s a very young congregation so much of what I do includes weddings and baptisms,” he said. He added that it’s fascinating to work with people at very different stages of life. “I love being with people who are just starting their families, and then turn around and be with people looking to make the most of their retirement years. What I don’t get at the church, I get at Eastcastle Place, and vice versa! It’s a great balance.”
Working with seniors, McDonough said, is a “rare privilege. To be part of their beliefs and thinking at this stage in their lives is a privilege. And there is great joy hearing about their lives and stories. I love listening to what this generation thinks and feels.”
Eastcastle Place is a Life Plan Community located on Milwaukee’s vibrant East Side. Eastcastle Place offers independent living, promoting an active and engaging lifestyle for seniors. The Health Center at Eastcastle Place offers assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing services, thus providing complete continuing care for seniors. Eastcastle Place is managed by Life Care Services®. For additional information call 414-219-1398 or visit www.EastcastlePlace.com.