May 7, 2021

‘Mary was part of it all’

Widower recalls Blessed Mother’s continuing presence in his personal and married life

Standing in the area of his home where he prays, Richard Turi holds a photo of him and his wife Gail before they married. The couple, members of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, were devoted to praying the rosary daily. He continues the practice as a widower. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Standing in the area of his home where he prays, Richard Turi holds a photo of him and his wife Gail before they married. The couple, members of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, were devoted to praying the rosary daily. He continues the practice as a widower. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

(Editor’s note: In honor of May as the month of Mary, The Criterion recently asked readers to send in their stories of the impact of the Blessed Mother on their life and their faith. This week presents the first of four installments featuring the responses received.)
 

By Natalie Hoefer

First came a tap on the shoulder in 1985. Then came an invitation in 1987. One led to a deeply devoted marriage, and the other to an intentionally lived faith life.

“When I look back now, I believe Mary played a role” in the tap and invitation, says Richard Turi, 78.

That look back includes a turn to the Blessed Mother in his youth, several pilgrimages, the establishing of a rosary group, raising three children with his wife Gail, and the couple’s closeness to “the sacraments, prayer and Mary herself.”

“Our life together was wonderful,” says the member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, whose wife died in December 2020. It was wonderful despite years of Gail suffering from pain and complications from scoliosis.

But it was Turi who was hurting in 1985 when he received that tap on the shoulder—the right shoulder, to be more specific—that would change the course of his life.

‘Peace of heart and soul’

Richard Turi had reached a low point in his life in 1985 when, on a Saturday evening, he turned to God in desperate prayer.

“I told God, ‘I know you’re talking, but I can’t hear you. So I need you to do it my way,’ ” Turi recalls. “I asked God to send me someone who could help me, and to have that person tap my right shoulder.”

The next morning, Turi went to the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas. Sitting in a pew, he felt a tap on his right shoulder.

It was Gail Rowe, a member of a parish Lenten study group he’d recently joined. She simply wanted to say hello to him.

“I just started sobbing,” says Turi. “She didn’t know I was hurting, and she had no idea how much her tap on my right shoulder meant to me.”

After Lent, the 12 members of the Lenten study group decided to continue meeting as a small faith-sharing community.

During the next five years, Turi and Gail grew closer, “but we didn’t tell anyone,” he says.

They were still not officially dating in 1987 when Turi was invited by a fellow parishioner to go on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in what was then Yugoslavia.

Six years earlier, six teenagers reported apparitions and messages from the Blessed Virgin there. (See endnote for the Vatican stance regarding Medjugorje.)

Departing on the pilgrimage, Turi felt good about his relationship with the Blessed Mother.

“My devotion to Mary came to me by having a loving mother who didn’t know how to show it,” he says. “Hugs were not a part of her life.

“I don’t negate her, but that [lack of outward affection] drew me to Mary as a mother because I wanted more.

“I thought I had a devotion, and I prayed the rosary occasionally.”

But some private, personal experiences in Medjugorje opened Turi’s eyes, and he realized his devotion “wasn’t as serious or as deep as I thought it was. Through confession, I found a peace of heart and soul like no other time in my life.

“I got more serious about my conversion into deeper prayer and attending Mass with a devotion I never had before, and realizing that Christ is so present with us on Earth every moment of our lives.”

In 1988, Turi returned to Medjugorje with members of his faith sharing group, including Gail, whom he by then was dating.

“She went to pray for relief from her scoliosis, and I went in support of her prayers,” he says.

The group returned to Medjugorje in 1989, and the couple repeated their request for Gail’s healing.

“One year later, Mary did see to it that she became pain free,” says Turi. “It was such a gift.”

‘A vow of three’

That gift came in time for the couple’s wedding on June 24, 1990. In the longstanding tradition of those living in the Medjugorje region, they asked to be wed during a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass “where it could be witnessed by our whole community,” Turi explains.

During their vows, the couple held a crucifix they made—another tradition of Medjugorje.

“It’s a way of showing the vow is with three—the couple and Christ,” Turi says. “Jesus, God the Father and Mary have been here for us during our life’s journey, without fail.”

But then, the Turis called upon Christ and God through Mary without fail.

After returning from the 1989 pilgrimage, the couple formed a rosary group that prayed together on the 5th, 15th and 25th of each month.

The couple also prayed the rosary daily, right up until Gail’s death.

“We had a prayer corner where we would pray the rosary,” he says. “It has the crucifix we made for our wedding.”

‘All three came out perfect’

The couple’s daily rosary became a family daily rosary with the birth of the couple’s three children, Zachary John, Zoe Marie and Zane Joseph.

“Our boys did it more out of obligation,” Turi admits. “But Zoe liked to lead [the rosary].

“It was Jesus, Mary, God the Father and God the Son who gave us our three wonderful children,” Turi acknowledges.

When he and Gail married, he was 48 and she was 40, so “her pregnancies were already at-risk because of her age,” Turi explains.

“But the doctors also advised her not to have children because of her scoliosis. They said they didn’t know if her spine would be able to bear up through pregnancy.

“But all three came out perfect,” Turi says.

Still, there were illnesses to deal with. As an infant, Zoe had recurring bouts of conjunctivitis, an eye infection.

The couple used holy water from two Marian apparition sites—Lourdes and Fatima—to anoint their daughter’s eyes.

“The next day, she wasn’t any better,” Turi recalls. “Then Gail said, ‘We forgot to pray!’

“So that night we anointed her eyes again, and this time we remembered to ask Mary for her healing.

“The next day Zoe’s eyes were clear, and she never had conjunctivitis again.”

Around that time, Turi was experiencing severe pain from arthritis in his shoulder. As a full-time barber, it was affecting his ability to work, and no doctor seemed to be able to help.

“Finally, Gail said, ‘Maybe what worked for Zoe will work for you.’ So we anointed my shoulder [with the water from Lourdes and Fatima] and prayed to God through Mary’s intercession for healing so I could be the dad my children needed,” Turi says.

“Four days later, my arthritis pain was gone. It never returned to the point of having so much pain.”

‘Mary … was part of it all’

But Gail’s scoliosis and pain did eventually return. In 2014, she had two extensive back surgeries to correct the curvature of her spine.

“She ended up three inches taller,” says Turi. “But her pain was even more severe. We saw a pain management doctor, but she lived with chronic pain the rest of her life.”

The couple continued to pray the rosary together as Turi helped care for his wife. When Gail’s weak lungs prevented her from praying the rosary aloud, Turi found online recitations of the rosary on YouTube that they could silently pray along with.

Ultimately, he says, “The pain just wore her out. Nothing helped her but the consolation of Mary, and we knew it was going to be OK.”

On Dec. 13, 2020, an accidental fall led to a brain injury that took her life that same day.

Turi still prays the rosary daily in the couple’s prayer corner, and “I ask Gail to join me,” he says.

“There’s not one thing that happened in life that we would not thank God for. And Mary, because she was part of it all.”
 

(The Vatican has declared it is not yet certain if the apparitions are of supernatural origin. While individual pilgrimages were never disallowed, Pope Francis approved of parish- and diocesan-led pilgrimages to Medjugorje in May 2019. For more on the Vatican’s stance regarding the Medjugorje, go to www.medjugorje.org/church.htm. For frequently asked questions on Medjugorje, go to cutt.ly/Medjugorje.)
 

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