May 8, 2015

Generations of love at heart of families’ stories

(Editor’s note: As the archdiocese and the Church prepare for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September, The Criterion is inviting readers to share their stories of how their faith has made a difference in their families. Here are three stories.)

By John Shaughnessy

Phyllis FieberPhyllis Fieber says she has never shied away from asking God for special requests in her life.

And every once in a while, she believes that God blesses her with a wonderful gift she didn’t request.

That was her belief on Feb. 15 when the 85-year-old woman received what she calls “my own private miracle.”

“It was one day past Valentine’s Day,” notes Fieber, a member of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Danville. “I am something of a ‘pack rat,’ someone who saves useless stuff. I needed to mail a note, so I had to find an envelope. I went to the closet and pulled a box of approximately 350 ‘saved and still good’ envelopes. There was quite an assortment—white, blue, pink, red, green, large and small.

“Flipping through the tops, I pulled a red one, just the right size. As I opened the envelope, I could see there was a paper inside. It was a homemade Valentine from my husband Marion, who died 14 years ago. For that Valentine’s Day, he had lost the Valentine that he had purchased so he made one for me.”

That evening, Fieber inspected all the other envelopes in the box. There wasn’t anything inside any of them. She considered the odds of choosing the envelope she did.

“I pulled the one envelope—from a box of 350 empty ones—that had a Valentine for me from my husband, on the day after Valentine’s Day. Yes, I did thank God. And I did cry. I think of my husband every day.”

Thoughts of love, faith and a father

Mary Jean Wethington and her father, William BoehleThe image of an outstretched hand from one person to another can evoke different feelings and responses.

For Mary Jean Wethington, that image always leads to intertwined thoughts of love, faith and her father, William Boehle.

“I am 69 years old, and I still call him Daddy,” says Wethington, a member of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County. “I always remark that I learned the Catholic faith kneeling between my parents. But every time we were seated during Mass, Daddy would pause for a moment, then determinedly stretch out his huge right hand into my lap and wait for me to place my little girl’s hand into his.

“The warmth of love by Daddy was consistently conveyed as my tiny child’s hand—nestled within my father’s strong hand of faith—soaked up the love every time we, as the gathered assembly, sat down at Mass.”

Wethington also remembers how her parents’ faith reached another level after Vatican II.

“Everything changed for both my parents at age 70,” she recalls. “Daddy now held in both hands a missalette and watched with great pride as Momma assumed her new place in the sanctuary as a lector. Then, as I gazed at him leaving our pew, Daddy reverently took his place, with folded hands, as an [extraordinary minister of holy Communion] of the body and blood of Christ. No words really can describe my faith experience the first time I received holy Communion from the hands of my Daddy.”

The connection of hands behind father and daughter created another poignant moment in their lives—when he was dying.

“I sat beside his hospital bed and held his hand in mine in prayer, until very gently and peacefully he passed over into the hands of the Father.

“To honor both Daddy and Momma, I assumed their roles as lector, [extraordinary minister of holy Communion] and sacristan. My hands now carry forth my beloved parent’s faith-gift ritual handed down to me.”

Tests of faith, answers in prayer

Joseph and Judy HagedornJoseph and Judy Hagedorn have experienced tests of faith that bring people to their knees.

“We buried our two first granddaughters—Tiffany at 3 months and Andrea at 6 weeks from Pompe disease [a rare, inherited neuromuscular disorder],” Joseph Hagedorn recalls. “When the best doctors in Indianapolis told us nothing could be medically done—to take them home—each girl died in the arms of our daughter JoAnn and her husband Mike.

“That is testing faith. JoAnn and Mike adopted a daughter, Samantha, from St. Elizabeth’s Home. They now have three grandchildren.”

Their daughter JoAnn also was diagnosed several years ago with a brain tumor. Initially, doctors didn’t want to operate on the egg-sized, fast-growing tumor behind her left eye because of the risks involved in the surgery.

“They agreed to operate because it was going to push her eye out of its socket,” notes Hagedorn, a member of St. Mark Parish in Perry County. “Our faith was once again tested. But she has perfect eyesight now, and she’s living a normal life. Yes, we believe in prayer.”

A third test of faith involved their daughter Theresa.

“She was having severe abdominal pain,” her father says. “All the high-tech medical procedures found nothing. A senior surgeon at Jasper Memorial Hospital took a look at the test results and ordered surgery. He found a twisted gut, with gangrene, ready to burst. He removed about 10 to 12 inches of intestines. After her recovery, the surgeon told Theresa, ‘You were saved by the grace of God.’ Today, she is healthy, feisty and enjoying her granddaughter.”

Through all those tests, Hagedorn says he has always relied on the Serenity Prayer, asking God to give him “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

“I also believe,” he says, “that God gives meaning and purpose to human life.”

(Has faith made a difference in your family’s life? Has it deepened your relationships as a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, a son or a daughter? Do you have rituals and experiences of faith that have helped to make your family more Christ-centered? If so, we’d like to hear about it. Please send your responses and your stories to assistant editor John Shaughnessy by e-mail at or by mail in care of The Criterion. 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. Please include your parish and a daytime phone number where you can be reached.)

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