February 16, 2007

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

Compas points toward home

Glennonville is a postage stamp-sized village in the “boot heel” of Missouri, and Sandy Compas is buried there.

The town is not actually in the “boot heel,” but in a somewhat undefined northeast part of the southeastern corner of the state. Sandy may have been as undefined as Glennonville until we take a closer look.

Sandy had a passion for teaching religion to children and adults. Born in the Gold Rush area of California and raised in Springfield, Mo., she considered Glennonville her home.

“She is buried in Glennonville because she did mission work there and taught at St. Teresa Catholic School three different times in her life,” according to her sister, Lynn.

We all have to determine our direction in life, and Sandy “loved it there and said that’s where she wanted to be,” her sister added.

Her untimely death occurred while driving back to Little Rock, Ark., after attending the ordination of Deacon Joe Weidenbenner, which took place in Glennonville. Sandy was very close to her “second family,” the Weidenbenners, who adopted her when she was a teacher there.

“There is such a hunger for religious education on the part of the people, especially the catechists and adults,” Sandy once said in the Arkansas Catholic newspaper. “My heart has always been in the rural parishes. I feel that’s where my strengths are.”

Itinerant by vocation, Glennonville was where Sandy’s heart and strength were, and it is where she centered her prayer life.

The town was named for Archbishop John Joseph Glennon of St. Louis

(1903-46), who believed that the agrarian life was especially conducive to sturdy family life and Christian virtue.

In 1905, he started a program called the Colonization Movement, which led to what would become the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.

Hand-picked German Catholics were invited to come to the new colony to buy farmland in a remote settlement far from the banks of the Mississippi River and major highways. Twelve thousand acres were purchased by the Church for the purpose of this new evangelization.

Like the town, Sandy was small in stature, unassuming, but was pure Catholic from conception, and beneath the alluvial soil, had a faith as timeless and powerful as the earthquake-prone area of the New Madrid Fault.

Former Glennonville resident Margaret Oakley, author of Growing Up in Glennonville, writes, “Glennonville, home of my childhood—where have you gone?

“The white New England style church has been torn down. The lovely stained-glass windows depicting the Stations of the Cross are gone. The beautiful little Christmas crèche so lovingly carried from Germany is gone.

“The little church with the wheezing pump organ has been replaced by a characterless modern ’60s style building. The heater works and the parishioners don’t shiver in the cold winter mornings, but the coziness and comforting familiarity is gone.”

Yet, Sandy Compas is there, and she is pointing our way toward home.

She attained her reward as an itinerant missionary. A Catholic pioneer, quiet school teacher and passionate catechist, Sandy achieved much in her rural ministry.

It is best to say simply, “She was my friend.”

(John Valenti is the associate director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.) †

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