October 28, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Saints alive! Or those we know and have known

Cynthia DewesWhen we are kids, Halloween might seem to be a lot more fun holiday than the All Saints feast the next day. After all, on Halloween there is dressing up in scary costumes, getting candy from everyone, and going to parties with bobbing for apples and more candy.

All Saints Day, on the other hand, honors those whom we believe have certainly gone to heaven. If we are honest, that means we think they were probably a lot holier than we are and must have led exemplary lives. We are more comfortable celebrating All Souls Day, which is more likely to include us, on the day after that.

Being a certified saint might imply having fewer temptations or a less stressful (i.e. interesting) life, and thus less excitement or fun. In other words, boring. But if we examine any of the saints’ lives, we find otherwise.

When we speak of saints, the usual names may come to mind—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Theodora Guérin and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Talk about interesting lives! Talk about stress!

Which brings us to recognizing the saints living among us. They, too, are ordinary people who love God by turning pain and stress into extraordinary joy for themselves and others.

Franciscan Sister Marie Werdmann, formerly Sister Louis Clare of Oldenburg, is such a person. When we met, she was principal of our parish grade school. She wore the habit and lived the usual life of a pre-Vatican II religious sister.

Sister Louis Clare directed a first-rate academic and religious education program, handling prickly parents, difficult pastors, and naughty kids with humor, kindness and grace. Later, she adopted civilian dress and her birth name, but her spiritual purpose never wavered. She was a popular fixture at parish events, and often rode her bike to them. People valued her counsel.

About two weeks after our son, Andy, died, I was home alone, ironing and watching TV to distract my grief. Unexpectedly, Sister Marie appeared at my door, came in and sat down. After initial greetings, we were companionably silent, but I’ll never forget the healing grace of her kind support.

Another as-yet-uncertified saint I knew was Father Bill, my husband’s uncle, who served in the St. Louis Archdiocese. During World War II, he was a chaplain with the U.S. Army in Europe, and witnessed the Battle of the Bulge, among other horrors. He asked that clothes and food supplies be sent to families he met there, and afterward he continued to send them money.

For many years, he was pastor of a parish in “the projects,” public housing for the poor in St. Louis. He helped parishioners find work, fight alcoholism and spousal abuse, and educate their children. Occasionally, he took in alcoholic priests who needed a home while they tried to overcome their addiction.

When we visited him once on a Saturday, he was sitting in the rectory watching sports on TV while several little children played at his feet. He was baby-sitting so their older brothers could take a break and play some basketball outside while their mothers were at work. When he died, he was wearing shoes given to him by a friend and a hand-me-down suit.

Priests and religious aren’t the only “saints I have known” since many laypeople qualify as well. I think of a local lady in her 80s, who cheerfully supports two grown sons with disabilities on a meager income. Or of the attorney who uses his impressive intellect to bring justice to others as well as to serve the Church with true faith in action.

Indeed, saints are alive!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: