Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 12, 2004
'Hospitality' heals broken spirits
Nun creates healing ambiance for wounded police officers
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
By day, Sister Dorothy Levandosky teaches at Bishop Paul O'Byrne High School in Calgary. But by night, she is the house attendant at Diakonos House.
Diakonos provides a support system and healing place for police, RCMP, Emergency Medical Services, paramedics, prison guards, fire department, prison guard corrections and customs officers, conservation officers, and park wardens - those who work on the stressful front lines of our communities.
Levandosky, a Benedictine nun from St. Benedict's Monastery in Winnipeg, describes how her role as house attendant dovetails with the work of this religious order.
"In the sixth century, Benedict of Nursia wrote a profound recipe for living - His Rule of Life. Of the 73 chapters in this rule of Benedict, an entire chapter is dedicated to hospitality and reception of guests."
Levandosky has been at the house when it first opened its doors in April 2000.
"When I was asked to be the attendant at the house," Levandosky recalls, "I was full of trepidation. And yet I knew deep down it was a call from God. This is a place where one of the charisms of my order is practised daily - hospitality. I believed that this charism of hospitality could be an asset to Diakonos House and have positive effects on the police officers who serve and protect our communities."
The Calgary Police Association founded the spiritual shelter to provide comfort to officers going through rough personal times that saw them sometimes sleeping in district offices or in their cars. A similar facility opened recently in Edmonton.
Levandosky describes her job as maintaining the residence and being the constant as people come and go.
"I do the cooking, cleaning, ordering of food - basically the day to day running of the home. On a deeper level, I believe my role is holy hospitality - Benedictine style. Hospitality is an industry but it is also a ministry. The hospitality that goes on here is the hospitality to the hearts of the broken."
Diakonos - a Greek word meaning servant - has been filled to its capacity of five male or female officers since opening.
"No one wants to be out of their homes," says Levandosky. "It is where their family is, where their easy chair is after a long day at work. It is where their tools are and where they sleep - all the important things in their life."
Diakonos House feels alive when one visits, even though great pain and healing are always present. It is a house full of humour. The officers affectionately call Levandosky "the warden" who returns the favour by calling them her "inmates."
"I have yet to have had a bad policeman here," says Levandosky. "What is difficult for them is when they go home after a shift. Their whole day is prefaced around taking control of out-of-control situations in the community. When they go home to their relationships they often find it hard to take off their policeman's cap. This behaviour may not go over well with the policeman's spouse or children.
"The officers that are here are not running from things. They are expected to work on their problems when they are here. Most are in counselling. A schedule may look like this: Monday - anger management course, Tuesday - football game with son, Wednesday - counselling with spouse. They have an outside contact person as support who will call or drop by and ask them, 'How is it going? Are you getting the help you need? Has anything shifted in your life?'"
It's a two-way street
The nun, in turn, learns from the officers.
"I see police officers who are very human who have to go into very inhuman situations on a daily basis. I think for the most part they look more deeply into life than most of us. The officers have phenomenal understanding of humanity. The officers are from many different backgrounds, cultures and religions so there are lively discussions about my faith and my life as a sister as well as their beliefs and lives."
Levandosky sees her role as reaching out to care for and be a realistic healer of broken spirits: "In Latin, compassion means 'to suffer with' and I see that as part of hospitality and holiness. I am convinced that when a person is integrated in their emotions he/she is holy.
"When a cop leaves here, he or she won't say they are a better person or put religious labels on their lives that say I am a holier person or better person, but I see that they are more integrated between what they are, what they believe and how they live. That is what the officers try to do here. They try to get back what they have lost."
But like life, there are the lighter moments.
Levandosky remembers, "One day an officer came home from work and as he came through the door shouted up to the kitchen, 'Honey, I'm home.' I stuck my head around the corner and said, 'Do you know where you are and who I am?' He answered, 'Yes, and I didn't think you'd have heard that before.' I said, 'You're right,' and we both had a great laugh.
The commitment and support Levandosky gives to Diakonos House was acknowledged by the Calgary Police Association when she was awarded a medal commemorating Queen Elizabeth's 50 years on the throne. This medal of distinction is awarded to police officers. Levandosky is the only civilian to receive such an honour in Canada.