Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
Nursing student Liza Birrer tends a woman’s tired feet at St. André Bessette Church.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
Nursing student Liza Birrer tends a woman’s tired feet at St. André Bessette Church.
As a woman sadly retells the series of events that led to her homelessness, nursing student Liza Birrer listens and nods as she gently places the woman’s feet in a basin of warm water. The student quietly asks questions and consoles as she uses a washcloth to clean between the woman’s toes and rinse her ankles.

This is Birrer’s third week serving in an educational rotation at St. André Bessette Church.

She and three other second-year Clackamas Community College students are learning one of the most important lessons of nursing care — how to help people feel valued.

“This is what happens to feet when they’re always in wet shoes and socks,” said Pat Guss, a nurse volunteer who has cared for hundreds of pairs of weary, calloused feet in the parish’s foot care ministry. A student peers over Guss’s shoulder as the retired nurse carefully trims gnarled toenails and sloughs off hardened, dead skin.

Guss is glad to mentor the students.

“This patient contact is good for them,” she said. Guss said she learned a lot as a University of Portland nursing student decades ago during the time she spent working with patients.

Known for its ministries serving people suffering from poverty, homelessness and mental illness, St. André Bessette has a long history of providing education opportunities to primary, secondary and university students. This year the parish hosted clinical rotations to nursing students from UP, Linfield College, Mount Hood Community College and Clackamas.

“It’s a real privilege to be part of the education of nursing students, especially in the community health setting,” said Andy Noethe, pastoral associate. “They’ll learn to relate to people in a more personal way.”

As a student placed Daniel Nyberg’s feet in a massaging bath, she asked if the water temperature was OK. “It feels good. Thank you,” Nyberg said.

Nyberg is grateful to be a part of the learning experience. The students remind him of his twin sister who is also studying to be nurse.

Elaine Bergmann, a hospitality center volunteer for two years, said the nursing students help identify health problems in visitors that should be referred to a doctor.

“People are afraid to touch the homeless, to talk to the homeless and to make eye-to-eye contact,” Bergmann said. “These students are seeing the reward in caring for someone who is no different than them, but just in a different circumstance.”

Deanna Wood feels inspired by the experiences at St. André Bessette and is more sure than ever that she’s chosen the right career path.

“It’s been incredible,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of gratitude in the general population.”

Student Zac Woodruff plans to go into pediatric cardiology when he graduates in June.

“Every day here has been different,” he said. “But the connections we’ve made with people have shown that we’re all just looking for friendship, companionship and compassion.”