Heaven’s reminder

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

December 18, 2003


When I finally found the house at the end of the road, there was nobody home. I had been asked to make a home visit to a lady who was very sick with cancer.

Her brother had stopped me after church the day before. He explained that his younger sister, Claire, had been raised a Catholic but she had been away from the Church for more than 30 years. He emphasized that she was a very good person. For more than 35 years she had taught second grade in a public school in a poor area on the South Side of Chicago. In the summers she had given up her vacations to go to Wisconsin where she served as a volunteer cook in a “fresh air camp” for poor kids. She had never married. Her whole life had been her students.

Her brother was concerned that Claire should be reconciled with the Church and be at peace in her relationship with God. Several weeks before he told me that she “probably would welcome a visit.” This Sunday he told me, “Don’t wait too long.”

So the next day, I went looking for her house.  It was on a quiet street in the block that dead-ended at a little beach on the Chesapeake Bay.

When I discovered nobody was home, I left my card and a prayer booklet on Claire’s front porch and walked to the beach at the end of the road. A lady walking her dog there told me where Claire’s brother and sister-in-law lived, just a hundred yards up the beach. I found Claire’s sister-in-law.

“Stay a little while,” she said. “They have gone up to the hospital for a blood test and should be back any minute.” So we walked back over to Claire’s house and waited. Sure enough, in a few minutes a car pulled up with brother and sister.

Claire was clearly very sick. It took two people to help her into the house. She smiled generously. Her family left us alone in the living room. She sat ramrod straight, to ease the pressure on her kidneys.

We talked for a while. I had grown up in Chicago. We knew a lot of places and even a few people in common. She remembered shopping at the department store where I had worked as a teenager. We laughed about how the owner’s cat sat by the cash register to get petted by the customers.

The conversation turned to faith. She was an extraordinarily good woman, full of spirit and charity. Even the reason she had stopped going to Church showed her good heart. She had left the church was over civil rights. She recalled the open housing marches in Chicago in the 1960s. She remembered how people threw things and cursed the civil rights marchers in Catholic neighborhoods. She was so disappointed in her fellow Catholics for not supporting the rights of families she was teaching that she stopped going to mass.

I said I was sorry. We Catholics have a lot to atone for. But I pointed out there were also many priests and nuns in marching with her in those same civil rights marches.

Our conversation shifted to God. I gave her absolution, anointed her and gave her Holy Communion and a blessing.

Then she was tired. Her brother came out to put to bed. We all had tears in our eyes. I said I would visit again “very soon.” I never got the chance. Less than 36 hours later, she was dead.

We all procrastinate. Sometimes it is because of busyness and sometimes because of plain inertia.

Occasionally we need a nudge from an angel. In this case it came from Claire’s brother. Two people were blessed by his persistence, Claire and me. There are some things that we ought not to put off.