Sr. Elena Henderson Article

Sr. Elena Henderson, SBS, RN, ACSW, LCSW entered the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament 48 years ago. “From the age of seven, I always said I was going to be a nun. On reflection, this came from a deep intuitive knowing. Answering ‘the call’ has been an amazing adventure I never imagined or dreamed of.  I received a BS in nursing from Texas Woman’s University in 1973 and worked in Labor & Delivery/Gyn Surgery prior to SBS. In 1988, I received my Masters in Social Work from Catholic University.  I entered the SBS during the time of major transitions within religious life and continue to live in that liminal space of transition.  One could say my whole life has been one of transition….being at the beginning and/or ending of things.

My saying ‘yes’ has led me through some very exciting and challenging ministries.  My first mission was in Harlem in the late ’70s in a clinic next to the Apollo theater on 125th St.  My next journey took me to  Rayne, LA as the Discharge Planner for rural Rayne hospital along with coordinating the high school CCD program.  Then I was asked to work as a staff nurse in our nursing home for our elderly sisters and also trained our staff to care for one of our sisters with complex medical care.  During graduate school, I had a field placement at S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat) with the homeless and at NIH in Alcohol Addiction Treatment.  This led to my continuing my ministry with S.O.M.E., initially to help work on the team to set up from groundbreaking to moving in residents for the first S.R.O. (Single Room Occupancy) housing in Washington, DC.  I did everything from working on lease agreements, screening, locating placement of furniture and electrical outlets for each room.  The facility was filled in one month; continues to operate today and is the first of many housing units S.O.M.E. has established.  While I was doing that, I was asked to do research for a drug treatment program in WV.  This led me to be the opening director for Exodus House, a 19-bed drug treatment program for homeless men from DC.  My involvement was from helping design the layout of the building to running a program and having it licensed in WV within a year. I even became licensed to operate our 32,000 gal. wastewater treatment plant. Residents today weren’t even born when this program began.

When I left this program, I knew it was what I was called to do and everything else would just be icing on the cake.  I also knew my next ministry would be with the HIV population.  I came about it in a circular way.  When I was applying for a position, there was only a placement in a women’s and children’s program.  I interviewed and ended up being sent to the organization’s mental health program and then People with Hope (HIV/AIDS).  People with Hope won out and I became the Nurse/Counselor.  Oh, the stories I could tell!  People died and suffered, yet, it holds some of the fondest memories of laughter and joy I have experienced in any of my ministries.  This is also where I first worked with the LGBT community.  Near the end of my time here, my supervisor had taken a position as Director of My Sister’s Place and asked me to join the staff.  The program was for pregnant and parenting women with a subspecialty in methadone maintenance for opiate users.  I spent eight years here as the Intake Coordinator and Orientation Counselor (nurse consultant when needed).  I watched women, against all odds, change their lives around.

During this time, I was traveling to VA working on a committee to look at the reuse of our historical VA property where two schools were operated for Black and Native American high school students post Civil War until the ’70s.  I was also asked to consider taking over the Administrative position at St. Michael Hall (our nursing home for our sisters).  I did and during that time also continued my Pastoral Care CPE studies at Thomas Jefferson Hospital.  Somehow, I knew that would be my next ministry calling.   In 2006, I was given the mission of working with four of our sisters at the VA property established as a 501 c 3 FrancisEmma, Inc.  During this time, I served on the Board, was treasurer/bookkeeper, became a member of the James River Master Naturalist (served as treasurer, vice-president, secretary), James River Association River Rat vol., Free Clinic of Powhatan Board member and secretary, and Water Quality Testing for JRA and Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  I’ve even helped as a volunteer to track the Chronic Wasting Disease in deer during hunting seasons.  This involves dissecting deer heads that are caught or killed on the road during hunting season.  These are small efforts in ministering to the environmental needs of our times.  It is the small things that make a difference in people’s lives and are often overlooked.

My next ministry here in VA began Jan. 2007 with Bon Secours Hospital System at St. Francis Medical Center (SFMC) and Bon Secours Nursing Home.  I continue to minister with Bon Secours Mercy Health in Richmond at SFMC and St. Mary’s Hospital (SMH) with my primary focus on visiting our Catholic patients and families to make sure they have access to the Sacraments, spiritual assessments, and support as needed.  I am currently the only Sister in the two hospitals and during the outbreak of COVID, was one of the few Catholic representatives who brought communion to the hospitalized.   I am moved deeply by the opportunity to bring Eucharist to people needing healing.  To pray with them and to allow me to be prayed for…to be in the moment is the Total Gift of Self.”

“The spirit of the Eucharist is the Total Gift of Self.” St. Katharine Drexel