August 19, 2016

Evangelization Supplement

Retreat House shows God’s mercy by hosting funeral for homeless woman

Family members and friends of Denise Knott-Stoehr gather on June 7 in the chapel of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis for the funeral of a homeless woman who had benefitted in recent years from the Ignatian Spirituality Project retreats for homeless people hosted there. (Submitted photo)

Family members and friends of Denise Knott-Stoehr gather on June 7 in the chapel of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis for the funeral of a homeless woman who had benefitted in recent years from the Ignatian Spirituality Project retreats for homeless people hosted there. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Throughout most of her adult life, Denise Knott-Stoehr had carried the heavy crosses of mental illness, addictions and chronic homelessness.

Two years ago, she was one of the first participants in a retreat for homeless people at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis.

Just before going on the retreat, Denise had been diagnosed with stage four terminal bone cancer.

She came to peace with God through participating in two retreats for homeless people at Fatima, and giving a witness at a third just a few months before she died on June 3.

At the time of her death, Denise was 56 and had been living for a few years at a home in Indianapolis for people in recovery from addiction operated by Pathway to Recovery, an organization that seeks to help free people from addiction to live productive, fulfilling lives marked by sobriety.

Although she had terminal cancer, Denise’s death came about unexpectedly and her friends and family, especially staff members at Pathway, had to scramble to arrange a funeral for her.

So Sandy Jeffers, Pathway’s executive director, reached out to Providence Sister Connie Kramer, who helps organize the retreats for homeless people at Fatima.

A funeral service for Denise at Fatima was soon arranged.

“It was like heaven on Earth,” said Jeffers of the care that Fatima’s staff gave in welcoming Denise’s friends and family to the funeral. “There’s no amount of money you could have paid for the love, dignity and respect that they [showed]. You would have thought that Mother Teresa was being laid to rest in the honor and respect that they had. That made it so different.”

As impressed as Jeffers was by the reception given by the staff at Fatima, Sister Connie was proud of the way the archdiocesan retreat house hosted a funeral for a woman who had suffered so much in her life.

“If that isn’t a statement of mercy, I don’t know what is,” Sister Connie said. “That proclaimed the Gospel message to the homeless of Indianapolis and their friends. It was profound. This was Fatima at its best.”

The retreats for homeless people hosted by Fatima are sponsored by the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP), a Jesuit-founded ministry now present in 24 cities across the U.S. that offers spiritual retreats to homeless people.

Sister Connie said the retreats and the funeral for Denise are poignant examples of how Fatima witnesses to the Gospel by helping people on the margins of society experience the love of God.

“Denise proclaimed from her own sacred story that God’s love is unconditional, that God’s mercy is always available,” Sister Connie said. “All we need to do is ask God to be with us on our journey. No matter what happens or how it goes, we won’t be alone.”

During one of the retreats, Denise experienced the closeness of God as she wrote a letter to him while sitting on a park bench on Fatima’s grounds.

“She went outside and sat at a park bench for a long, long time,” recalled Sister Connie, who assists at the ISP retreats. “Then she came in and said, ‘God and I have it together. We’re on the same page.’ She was just beaming with energy and life. You knew that she had met her God like at the burning bush out there.”

More than 100 family members and friends gathered in Fatima’s chapel for Denise’s funeral, something that her son, Danny Knott, appreciated.

“I took great comfort in knowing that she wasn’t alone,” said Knott, 32, who had been estranged from his mother for much of his life. “It was a great comfort to know that there were people there guiding her way and keeping her positive and clean.”

Jeffers said that many who attended Denise’s funeral are in recovery from addictions and had difficulty dealing with grief and death, which for them were “something that [they] medicated and covered up with drugs and alcohol.”

“This gave them a whole different meaning to that,” Jeffers said.

Georgene Beiriger, Fatima’s director, was glad that the retreat house could be a place where Denise, her family, friends and participants in ISP retreats could experience the mercy of God.

“Fatima is truly a house of mercy—a place that answers our Lord’s invitation to proclaim his love and mercy to the disadvantaged,” she said. “The staff at Fatima understands and embraces our mission. We are honored and blessed to provide a welcoming and safe space for all who enter here to encounter and rest in the living God.”
 

(For more information about the Ignatian Spirituality Project, visit www.archindy.org/fatima/ignatian.html, send an e-mail to Providence Sister Connie Kramer at ckramer@spsmw.org, or call her at 812-239-4309.)

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