February 18, 2011

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Personal illness: A time for reflection about life

Shirley Vogler MeisterWhen a person is usually the caregiver in a family, it is often difficult to “switch sides.”

I became ill on Jan. 5, and was homebound for most of the month while battling what my doctor said was either pneumonia or bronchitis. It didn’t matter because the medicines prescribed were appropriate for both.

If it weren’t for my husband, Paul, I would not have been able to keep myself together. I will spare the details because most of us suffer through times like that at one time or another. It is a part of life.

I wrote only one column for January. Some readers contacted me, realizing that something was wrong when my second scheduled column was replaced with one written by Father John Catoir.

Father Catoir is the founder and current president of St. Jude Media Ministry, a national apostolate which uses radio and TV programming to reach out to the millions of unchurched people in America.

The well-known priest formerly served as the executive director of Eva’s Village in Patterson, N.J., a comprehensive poverty program in the state.

Father Catoir has spent the majority of his ministry years as a communicator in print, radio and television.

He is a former president of the Catholic Press Association, and a syndicated columnist for many religious and secular publications. He has authored 15 books.

I mostly remember him as the former director of The Christophers, which is based in New York. He also hosted the organization’s national television series and published The Christopher Newsletter.

When I saw his column in print where my column usually is on The Criterion’s “Perspectives” page, I cried—partly because of the warm feeling that I had knowing that his words had replaced mine and partly because it was probably the first time that I had not met a deadline during my writing career.

It seems as though I have been a writer forever. I learned to write at St. Bernard School in St. Louis, no longer in existence because the neighborhood was razed.

My imaginative girlfriends and I wrote a tiny neighborhood “newspaper,” and even stuck some pages under a neighbor’s house shingles for posterity.

My parents eventually returned to their Belleville, Ill., area roots, which are my roots, too. There, I briefly attended Cathedral Grade School. Then, through testing for scholarships, I earned a four-year scholarship to the all-girls’ Academy of Notre Dame in Belleville, operated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Sister Mary Patrick, an English and journalism teacher, encouraged me to join the school’s newspaper staff. Believe it or not, the newspaper was called The Read-a-Wee.

Just before graduation, Sister Mary Patrick also called a local newspaper to suggest that I be interviewed for its “social editor” position.

I replaced a writer, also an Academy of Notre Dame graduate, who was getting married and moving to Chicago. I have been writing for countless publications ever since.

My recent illness triggered many memories and reflections on my life, and also reminded me to be grateful for my Catholic faith, Catholic education, and all the priests and nuns who were so pivotal in my life.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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