May 14, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Memories of a wise mother and her witness of faith

I can’t resist: According to my records, this is the 900th column I am writing for The Criterion since I became archbishop in September 1992.

In the last 17-plus years, I have not missed a column every week that The Criterion was published. God forgive my pride!

It is an old story, but I claim the privilege to repeat it. I began writing a weekly column since the first days I became a bishop in March of 1987.

Responding to my submission of the ordination documentation to the Holy Father, his Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, wrote in a note that Pope John Paul II asked me to emphasize my role as teacher. I figured one way I could do that was to write a message in the Catholic weekly newspaper—first in Memphis, then in Indianapolis.

As I prayed for my deceased mom on the recent Mother’s Day, I recalled that she, too, was partly responsible for my weekly writings.

I remembered distinctly that she once expressed her appreciation to me for the weekly letter that Bishop Henry J. Grimmelsman wrote in the Evansville diocesan paper. Of course, she had no idea I would one day be a bishop, but her influence on me continues in many ways. You will understand if this week I dedicate this 900th column to her with sentiments of gratitude.

In her later years, after my brother and I were off to college and to minor seminary respectively, Mom taught at the elementary school at Holy Family Parish in Jasper.

As a young woman, before her marriage and beginning a family, she taught in one-room public schools in Dubois County. In fact, she had taught the pastor of Holy Family Parish, who would hire her as the first lay teacher in the parish school.

One of my favorite photos of her was taken at a diocesan teacher’s conference in Evansville. She happened to be in the center of the photo looking as serene as I always remembered her. I suspect it was this characteristic that caught the photographer’s attention.

One of my priest friends regularly called to mind her calm and steady manner—and her wisdom. Of course, there were times when she would be distressed, particularly if she happened on to gossip. She would have nothing to do with rumors and judgmental anecdotes often passed around in common conversation. While not as successful at this as Mom, I have tried to imitate her.

I would visit her classroom once a semester during my time at Saint Meinrad. Usually, she would have me there during religion class and it was a treat to interact with the fourth graders. Of course, I am biased as I look back with fond memories, but I was inevitably impressed by the responsiveness of her students and by the knowledge they gained from her teaching.

I remember that so many of her former students came by to pay their respects at the calling prior to her funeral. Many were at the funeral Mass as well.

I was reminded of the impact that teachers can have on our youth and young adults. I still run into former grade school students of hers who make a point of telling me how much they appreciated being in her classroom.

As I think back to my grade school education, I respect Mom greatly for the manner in which she allowed me to make my way on my own. One might expect that, being a teacher, she would have constantly been looking over my shoulder to keep me on track. She did it from afar, and I never felt pressured by her. I would ascribe that to her wisdom.

Twice in her later years, Mom fell and broke a hip. I thought back to those years when I had my bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, more recently, when I needed a shoulder replacement. I fixed on her manner of accepting physical problems as they came, and keeping her calmness intact while she was determined to do the difficult rehabilitation.

My sister-in-law, Marge, was a faithful attendant to Mom in her rehabilitation. When she was away, once in awhile I tried to step in and work with Mom. I remember hoping at the time that some day I would be as quietly persevering against tough physical challenges.

Memories of her witness have helped me with my health issues. That her rosary was always nearby in her waning years did not escape my attention.

I would not have dared to write these few thoughts if Mom were still alive. She did not want to be the center of attention. Was she perfect? No, but she was a simple mom who continues to be present in wonderful ways.

I hope this encourages other moms. †

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