March 23, 2018

‘How fortunate we are to have God’

Still going to Mass in Fortville at 109, devout Mary Weir is the ‘joy of the parish’

Just days after her 109th birthday, Mary Weir, center, of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, poses in her home with her granddaughter, Paige Hunt, left, and her daughter, Peggy Hunt, who both help care for Weir. The centenarian proudly displays a photo of her meeting then‑Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin in 2016. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Just days after her 109th birthday, Mary Weir, center, of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, poses in her home with her granddaughter, Paige Hunt, left, and her daughter, Peggy Hunt, who both help care for Weir. The centenarian proudly displays a photo of her meeting then‑Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin in 2016. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

(Editor’s note: A 2015 Pew Research study indicates that the Catholic population, like that of the United States is aging. In the U.S., 20 percent of Catholics are 65 and older. This marks the first in a series of articles addressing the emotional, spiritual and physical issues of seniors in central and southern Indiana.)

By Natalie Hoefer

FORTVILLE—When her granddaughter asks her if she remembers the sinking of the Titanic, Mary Weir scoffs just a bit.

“No, that was April 1912,” she says before adding, “I was too young.”

But she does remember staying safe in her family’s home on a hill during the Great Flood of 1913—she was, after all, 4 years old by that time.

At 109, Mary Weir of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville may well be the oldest Catholic who attends Mass in the archdiocese.

Her eyesight and hearing have known better days, she admits, and she uses a walker and wheelchair for mobility. But clearly her memory is still sharp. And with the help of her family and a bit of nursing support, the centenarian still lives at home—a home she’ll proudly tell you she bought on April 4, 1981—and takes part in Mass and parish functions as often as possible.

While Weir’s overall health and mental acuity are remarkable for her age, most impressive to her family and those who know her is the type of person she is, and the Catholic faith she has devoutly lived for nearly 11 decades.

Following are a few of Weir’s recollections of 109 years of life, the role her Catholic faith played—and plays—in shaping who she is, and the resulting impact she has on those who know her.

Washboards, buggies and blessings

Mary Weir was born on her parents’ farm in Franklin County on Feb. 16, 1909. She and her family were members of the former Holy Guardian Angels Parish in Cedar Grove.

The 109-year-old woman now has four children, nine grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and nine—soon to be 10—great-great-grandchildren. But life for Weir was much different before those nearly 39 descendants came along.

“We rode in a horse and buggy for a long while,” she recalls of her youth. “I think I was probably 5 years old the first time I rode in a car. …

“I did laundry on a washboard. …We used oil lamps inside and lanterns outside. We never did have electricity at home, but [my husband Lawrence and I] did when we moved to Indianapolis” for two years after marrying in 1928.

Lawrence’s gift of a $5 gold piece before they were married proved to be Mary’s most memorable Christmas present, although “when he gave it to me, I thought it was a nickel,” she remembers with a grin.

When the Great Depression began in 1929, Weir says she was blessed.

“It didn’t affect me too much because my parents lived on a farm, and my husband had just started his [auto body repair] business in Greenfield, and it went well,” she says.

But she does recall one “hardship”—the absence of nylon stockings.

“We either painted our legs, or we drew a line up the back of our leg with some kind of pencil” to give the appearance of a seam, she says with a laugh.

The Weirs had four children between 1936-46. In 1940, they moved from Greenfield to Fortville.

That’s where St. Thomas the Apostle Parish enters Mary’s story, creating a chapter that has continued for 78 years.

‘How fortunate we are to have God’

Weir’s ties to the parish are deep. Not only is she the oldest member, but she is also the longest-time parishioner, followed by her oldest son, David, now 81.

Her youngest child, Peggy Hunt, 71, helps care for Weir seven days a week. She recalls the importance her mother placed on faith while raising her children.

“She always made sure we went to church every Sunday,” Peggy says. “If you didn’t go to church, you didn’t go anywhere else that Sunday. And she made sure we got our catechism.”

Weir taught catechism at the parish as well. Over decades of service to the Indianapolis East Deanery faith community, she also chauffeured nuns from St. Michael Parish in Greenfield to teach catechism at St. Thomas, helped clean the church, served dinners at parish functions and was part of a St. Thomas women’s euchre club.

“I used to sing in the choir, too, but I’m not sure how good I sounded,” she quips.

When Weir refers to her parish home, the term takes on a dual meaning. When she and her family moved to Ingalls a few miles north of Fortville in 1948, they sold their home to the parish for use as a rectory. It remains the parish rectory to this day.

Weir admits that her days of volunteering at the parish are over. But she stays connected to the faith community. Father George Nangachiveettil, St. Thomas Parish’s pastor for the last four years, visits her. She even taught him how to play rummy.

More importantly, though, as long as the weather permits, Weir still worships at Saturday evening Mass and joins in parish functions. Driving and accompanying her is either Peggy or Peggy’s daughter, Paige Hunt, who helps care for Weir five days a week.

“She likes it when people bring her Communion here,” says Peggy. “But she still prefers to go to church. She looks forward to it. In the winter time, that may be the only place she goes. She says, ‘I can’t see and I can’t hear, but I like being there.’ ”

“I just don’t know how anybody can get by without faith,” says Weir, who still prays the rosary daily. “I think how fortunate we are to have God in our lives.”

‘A young girl coming to church’

The members of St. Thomas feel fortunate to have Weir in their lives, says Father Nangachiveettil.

“They know her very well,” he says. “Her birthday was [on] Feb. 16. I was making announcements at the end of Mass, and someone stood up and said, ‘Don’t forget today is Mary Weir’s birthday!’ ”

The parish didn’t forget—Weir received 47 cards for her 109th birthday, many of them from St. Thomas parishioners.

“She gets cards once a month, maybe twice a month from the [parish] Bible study class,” Peggy adds.

Paige, 52, sees the attention from the parish as her grandmother simply reaping what she has sown.

“She’s just positive and happy,” Paige says. “She’s not pretentious. She’s not judgmental or prejudiced. … She never spoke ill of anyone, which is wrapped up in her faith. ‘Be good to everyone’—that’s kind of her persona. And she doesn’t just believe it, she lives it.”

Paige considers it an honor to help care for her grandmother.

“She’s been an important part of my life,” she says, her voice heavy with emotion. “We’ve been with each other since [I was in] first grade. We walked to school together, … pick[ed] raspberries, work[ed] the yard together.”

Peggy, eight years retired, has been caring for her mother for 10 years.

“She’s my priority,” says Peggy. “She wants to be here [in her home], and right now [my life] is about her.

“She never complains. She appreciates things. She’s just such a good person. She’s inspired a lot of people.”

Father Nangachiveettil, is one of those people.

“She has a very beautiful smile, very pleasant, peaceful, joyful, a very good example for the parish and me, too, because she’s a good mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,” he says.

“She always sends me a Christmas card in her own handwriting. I keep all of her cards as a remembrance of her. She prays for me, and I pray for her.”

Mostly, he is inspired by Weir’s witness.

“The time during the offertory, she’s putting her envelope very nice in the basket, so joyfully,” he says. “It’s a good example that she puts her tithe in faithfully.

“She is an evangelizer. She is a good example to all [Catholics] who abandoned the Church. …

“Mary is simply a young girl coming to church. She is the joy of the parish.” †

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