September 21, 2007

Catholic News Around Indiana

Diocese of Lafayette

Delicate gown weaves strong family tradition

By Kevin Cullen (The Catholic Moment)

WESTFIELD—When little Mary Frances Beck was baptized at St. Maria Goretti Church on Sept. 15, she wore the same white gown worn by her great-grandmother in 1905, by her grandmother in 1941 and by her mother in 1977.

It’s more than a piece of cotton. History is woven into every inch. The gown was made when Oklahoma was a territory, Teddy Roosevelt was president and every Mass was celebrated in Latin.

In a throw-away, mass-produced, often crass society, how does a tiny, delicate frock survive for 102 years, long enough to become a precious heirloom?

“I think, probably, the honest answer is that we are a family of pack rats,” the baby’s grandmother, Ann Welch, of Carmel, says with a laugh. “We keep everything. My husband says mean things about me keeping everything, but I think this meant a lot to my grandmother and my mother.

“My mother always kept it very well hidden when we were children,” she says. “I didn’t know about it until I was a little older. It was not something we were allowed to play with. She made sure it was preserved. We kept everything.”

The little christening gown connects the generations in a personal, intimate way. It was first worn by Mary Frances’ great-grandmother, Marion Janssen, then by Welch and then by Mary Frances’ mother, Molly Beck.

Mary Frances, born on Aug. 30, is Molly and Peter Beck’s fifth child, and the gown has been worn by all their children. It also has been worn by two of her cousins at their baptisms.

“It is very special,” Beck says. “My grandmother was kind of the matriarch, in the old sense of the term, a very holy woman. I knew the dress existed, but when my sisters and I started having our own children, it took on new meaning. To have all five of mine baptized in the dress she wore so long ago, to carry on that tradition, is very special. It’s a blessing to be part of it.

“You can tell it is antique, but it is still holding up very nicely. We’re careful when we put it on,” she says.

The dress was made in 1905 by Marion Janssen’s great-aunt, Fidelia Rupiper. Little is known about her, other than the fact that she was married to a Civil War veteran who served in a Wisconsin regiment before moving West and settling in Nebraska—which, in 1905, was only a few years past its frontier days.

“I am sure they were living in a somewhat primitive situation,” Welch says. “I know my grandmother talked about her making the dress, and mentioning her.”


Diocese of Evansville

Priest and nephew, kidney donor and recipient, doing well

By Paul R. Leingang (The Message editor)

EVANSVILLE—On Monday afternoon, Father Bernie Etienne took a walk near his parish, sorting out the life-changing events of recent days. As he walked through the neighborhood, he spoke by cell phone to The Message, newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville, and reflected on his own feelings and the reactions of hundreds of people to what he had done.

On Sept. 12, doctors had removed one of his kidneys and transplanted it into the damaged body of Eric Etienne, the priest’s nephew.

Three days after the surgery, Father Etienne came home to Evansville from Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis. Eric was expected to be released from the hospital soon, just about a week after receiving the kidney. His father, Rick Etienne of Newburgh, Ind., said Eric’s kidney function is better than it ever has been in all of his life. Eric was injured in a car accident before he was born, 21 years ago, and continues to require special attention.

The next few months are critical for Eric, according to his family. He will be tended carefully to watch for any signs of transplant rejection. Father Etienne will have to be more careful than usual, too—warned by the doctor to take at least a month off from ministry at Holy Rosary Parish in Evansville, where he is pastor, and to avoid the temptation to dive back into a heavy work schedule.

The priest has been “astonished” by the cards, calls and messages he has received from friends, parishioners, former parishioners and especially from people who have experienced something similar. Many wanted to assure him of their prayers, he said. Others wanted to share their own stories.

“I think a lot of people struggle to find significance in life,” Father Etienne said. “To do something like this just opens a window, to see what a difference a life can make.”

As a priest who has promised celibacy, Father Etienne reflects on the difference he has made in another person’s life, and how he and Eric now have a unique bond.

Donating a kidney to Eric is “a way to be generative in my life in a very real way,” he said. “He’s kind of my kid, too.” †

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