Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why They Come to Mass Every Morning

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those
who weep. Have the same regard for one another.
(  Romans 12: 15  )
For when you meet frequently, the forces of
Satan are annulled and his destructive power
is cancelled in the concord of your faith.
( Saint Ignatius of Antioch)

By Robert R. Schwarz 

Note: This was posted originally on 
Feb. 2 , 2014. Weekday Mass 
attendance since then has 
increased appreciably. 

            It's 6:44 a.m. on a sub-zero day in January, and the St. James Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, lies in darkness . When the sun rises, it will reveal a prominent architectural feature of St.James: its sky-piercing steeple . Add this to the outside  red brick and looming white Ionic pillars , and the front of the  church might  bring  to mind a splendid  historic county courthouse . 
  In a minute, three or four cars will pull into the
parking lot for the  7:30 a.m. Mass. One of the cars will have the license plate, "Mom to Ten." The epithet is a tribute to the mother of ten but now deceased wife of Jim .
Mary , the altar "preparer" , enters  and   dips a finger into the holy water stoop just inside the door, crosses herself ,  then walks across the altar  to  the sacristy door .  The church has already been  lit by 96 light bulbs in eight enormous chandeliers and  by flickering  votive candles in racks  along both walls.  Faintly seen is the red glow of the "perpetual  " light high above the tabernacle.
            Mary gets to work with tasks she's been doing  here for 25 years: there are candles to  replace,  holy water stoops to fill,  two Eucharist chalices to place on  the altar,  and the   "gifts" of water ,  wine, and  wheat hosts  for two worshippers who will later carry them  up  for the priest to bless. Then there  are the pitcher of warm water for the priest  to  wash his hands before the  blessing and  the Mass cruets to fill with holy water  and wine.  Lastly, Mary walks to the  ambo ( lectern ) t0  set up the lectionary  ( book of Holy scripture to be  read this morning ) and a microphone.  As usual, she takes a second to hope the altar servers will  show  up—these young students  sometimes don't—as will  the three  Eucharistic ministers needed to help the priest distribute  the  communion wine ( Christ's blood )   and hosts ( His body ).   
Mary, the 'altar preparer'
Though Mary sometimes finds it difficult to get out of bed so early, if she doesn't get to Mass , she says she is "miserable for the rest of the day. " And what about those 20 or 30 same worshipers who unfailingly come here every weekday morning ? " They want to get Jesus," she says matter-of-factly.
            At the very back of the church in a pew seat that's been his for years ,  is Jim, one of the very early worshippers. He is  holding Rosary beads and praying silently .  Jim is 89 , the  father of one of the St. James' five deacons.     
            Jim: "I can't think of a better way to be with the Lord. I go to Mass as a member of  Christ's body…Life is short , death is certain , and the world-to-come is everlasting."
            A minute or two later, Duke takes a pew seat across the aisle from Jim.  Like several of the regular weekday worshippers
,  he has lost a  spouse and comes  for comfort he gets  from the church's  silence and its  sacramentals on the walls and altar.  Duke is a 75-year-old retiree from the Federal Aviation Commission. He pulls out his Rosary, one which was uniquely fabricated from petals of roses which a year ago lay here on top his wife's casket.  A nun made the beads,  having learned the  technique in Rome. Duke had 22 more of the costly Rosaries  made for family, friends, and three priests, one  of whom blessed the Rosaries.  Duke is a member of the church's grief support group.
Duke: " I come here to deal with my grief and have been coming ever since. " 
Jim is often in his pew before 7 a.m. 
The silence is broken  for a couple of minutes by  Tom's entrance with his friend  through the rear door. He is a self-appointed goodwill ambassador  and doesn't settle into his pew  with Rosemary until he has walked over to Jim and two others with a cheerful greeting  or with  one of his typical good-humored  wisecracks.   
            Tom:   "I like the people here. They       make me feel good."  
            Rosemary: " I've always gone to  Mass even when I had my eight children…I'm grateful being here with my Lord, praying with Him in the peacefulness here. "
On  summer mornings the church   turns golden when  the sun rises and sends its rays through the eight-foot diameter  rose window set  high above the altar. Colors of blue-violet, red-violet, green and white radiate from the 48 glass segments that make up the window's  three  concentric circles. They are the colors of the church's  religious seasons ; the red also represents the  blood of Christian  martyrs.
The Rosary Team Gets to Work
   At 7:10, Tom looks around for the presence of those  who have been assigned a role in reciting one  of the five Rosary mysteries to  be said this morning . He then  makes the sign of the cross and speaks so all can hear  :  "In the name of  the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."  Another worshipper  continues with the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty…"  
            During the 15-minute  Rosary recitation, several more "regulars"   enter  the pews. The parish has more than  13,000 members, including babies and children.  ( It's  quite an increase from the 18 families who, in 1904, were  worshipping about a mile away in the original St. James church. ) The 50 oak wood pews tightly hold 550 people and are regularly  filled  at  Masses  on  Sunday  and on  Saturday evening ,  Easter , Christmas,  and Holy Days of Obligation.   
Two happy members of the Body of Christ
    Ed comes in. If summer, he would have  has just picked a red rose from his garden and placed it in a vase  below the plaster statues  of the Holy Mother and Saint Joseph. Following advice of a priest, Ed sits in the front pew so he can focus better on the Mass.
            Ed: " If I don't go to Mass, I really feel bad and get a guilty conscience…I don't use an alarm clock . God wakes me up. I have so many things to pray for. "
            Nearly all of the regulars are in their pews  when the last Rosary mystery ends.
 Everyone appears to be praying. There is a man whose spouse has  severe  rheumatoid arthritis ; behind him are three nuns from a nearby convent; across the aisle from them with folded hands sits  a retired dentist ; there is a CPA who is an Opus Dei member,   church deacon ,  wife of another deacon,  retired newspaper editor ,     "homeless" man ,  seminary student, and a woman who ,  a few minutes ago was outside kneeling  before the Blessed  Mary statue . ( She once hitchhiked to Mexico to help repair a rundown church and later traveled to Nova Scotia to knock on doors with the Good News. )
As they   pray, some worshippers  are likely meditating on one of the many  sacaramentals that surround them , those scared signs which bear a certain resemblance to the seven Catholic sacraments , and by means of which spiritual effects are signified and obtained through the prayers of the Church ( Catholic  catechism #1667). Some are focusing on the five-foot-six-inch  Jesus crucifix  behind  the altar ,  below the rose window. For others, it's the 52-inch tall statues of Saint James  or Mary and Joseph; or perhaps one of the eight stain glass windows that beautifully dominate the walls; each is 20 feet high ,  and when light streams through each of  windows'  108 multi-colored panes and  illuminates the  birth, life,  death, and resurrection of Jesus—the effect can be transcendental even to the casual worshipper.   
Few of the younger  regulars know that the marble  stone construction of the altar, ambo, , tabernacle pillars, candle holders , and   crucifix stand  were fashioned from the communion railing that once bordered the altar.
A Few Facts about the Church's Artwork     
Yet no matter  where these worshippers' attention lie this morning,   it is framed by the  architecture designed by Charles Randig , a Benedictine monk and renowned artist in Europe who was invited  here  decades ago by his brother John, a St. James member on the church's planning  committee.   During his six-month stay  in Arlington Heights  with his brother's family , Charles managed the installation of the widows which, according to Pat Farrell,   director of spiritual formation for the St. James K-8 students , are  "irreplaceable" and likely valued  at "hundreds of thousands of dollars ."
Ionic-styled pillars in early morning light, a  hint of Ephesus 
One of 8 stain-glass windows
             designed by Benedictine monk
Charles Randig
Looking at these windows with a little imagination, the worshipper can be transported back to a Gothic  cathedral in the Middle Ages , say , in France  at Amiens, Chartres, or Notre Dame . And there is the  rounded Romanesque arch that loops above the altar and those  pointed arches that pretend to crown the windows. The arches are non-functional , of course, as is the ribbed vaulting that  crisscrosses the ceiling's center  or  the 48 Ionic, floor-to-ceiling  columns that speak of places like ancient Ephesus or Athens. Worshippers this morning are also enjoying the  spiritual ambience of the thoughtful  color scheme of muted brown walls  with white paneling below them  and by the brown oak of the pews with white sideboards.
It's 7:20 . Outside, Pastor Matt crosses Arlington Heights Road, enters the church, and strides down an outer aisle towards the sacristy as the Rosary ends with a voice proclaiming the oldest Marian prayer, Sub Tuum Praesidium  (" Under Your Protection")  : " We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God, despise not…"
Why They Come Every Morning
Why do  these same people  come every morning  when no church rubric or tradition requires it?
Joan—she's uses a walker: "It's a good way to start the day…It's not crowded.  "  
Bob: " I get up at five-thirty and like to walk …It might be my last day."
Tracey—there with her three children whom she homeschools;  she and her four-year-old Abigail sometimes carry the gifts up to the altar: " It's a tradition.  We do it to keep centered in God. "
Grant—Tracey's  12-year-old: " Sometimes it's hard getting up in the morning, but once I get there it's really worth it, that sense of peace you get for the rest of the day."
Dorothy—"I've been doing it all my life…It is my life now. "
Peter—the  seminarian : " It's the opportunity to hear the Word of God and to receive the graces which I need for every-day life."
Regina—a young woman from Indonesia: " I need to see Him [Jesus ] and receive Him every day ."
Luis—he  often kneels on the floor behind the last pew: "I thank God for the day and ask Him for guidance."
Stan—he's there with his wife and is a liturgy reader with a voice like a radio newsman: " We get a jump start on the day."
Marilee: " I just love it ! "
Madeline—a Eucharistic minister who's been a weekday mass regular for 29 years: " To be with the community. It's the best way to start the day."
Matthew—says  he never would have survived the death of his wife a little over a year ago without this Mass: " For companionship." 
Bill—he loves to bring the gifts up to the altar:  "I've been going to Mass every morning since my wife died. You meet some pretty nice people early in the morning…You get up at six o'clock in the morning and you're showing God that you love him."
Other regulars include  three people who are unable to  kneel, a woman who sometimes  arrives late and  out of breath, at least two persons who have sought employment for more than a year, the pastor's cook and her husband, and  the guy who has asked  all these imposing questions and who wishes this 7:30 a.m. Mass began an hour later.
They Are the Body of Christ
A minute before 7:30 , there are usually 40 to 60—sometimes more—bodies in the pews. Always, there are a few  latecomers scampering in .
No doubt some of these   worshippers during  their  30 minutes of singing, praying , and hearing the Word of God  sense  they are indeed a member of what church doctrine  calls the " Body of Christ."  Though they have heard  these words proclaimed  hundreds of times,  questions naturally  remain:  What exactly is this  body ? What does it look like ?   What part am I ?
Hands together during the Lord's Prayer
The Catholic catechism says this about The Body of Christ:  In the unity of this  Body, there is a diversity of members and functions. All members are linked to one another (#806 )….The church is this Body of which Christ is the head (#807 ) And speaking  Jan. 1, 2014 from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis  said:   " We are all children of one heavenly father. We belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny. "  Also , the apostle Paul in Romans 12: 4, 5 ,  writes:  For as in one  body we have many parts, and  all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many,   are one body in Christ . 
The Catholic Encyclopedia ,  in its online page entitled  " The Mystical Body of the Church , " suggests that these St. James worshippers and all others  will  have a clearer vision if they see this mystical body as analogous to the human body and see themselves as all "knit together as though by a system of ligaments and joints. "  Or, as one Catholic theologian   wrote:  that they live in a   "universe of Catholics "  as parts  of an organism where "all the sinews of  our hearts are consecrated by the presence of  Jesus ."    In writing  to bishops ,  Pope Francis stated : "Each member of the [ church ] body reproduces  in himself the whole [ pastoral ] institution in its totality . "  [ Italics added .]
One of these St. James worshippers  might therefore wonder if a case can be made for God orchestrating  the unified functioning of millions of cells in one human body—and  linking this singular  functioning to the millions of people who function as one  Body of Christ.  Would this worshipper  then conclude that , on this January morning in Arlington Heights,  ,  all those sitting in pews around him or her  are  each other's brother and sister in a very true sense ?  Dare we not stay spiritually healthy for each other's sake, he might exhort  ?
Stan, helping all stay in tune 
A parish member  at  one  7:30 a.m.  Mass once  asked :  "How can God really hear all  the Godly  prayers being said at the same time by  millions of Christians throughout the world, in and out of church ?  I  know  He's omnipotent and omnipresent…."
There was an attempt by another worshipper  to answer her  with two analogies : One analogy  was how that master switch in  her basement circuit breaker box—with one tug—can send electricity simultaneously to any number of light bulbs that are "asking" for energy. The other analogy was how a loving touch of a mother upon her young child's body , how that touch—with the actual  speed of light— communicates a message of  joy or comfort  to many parts of her child's body—simultaneously . 
It's 7:30. Stan plays the refrain of a hymn.  A young girl in a white robe appears in the sacristy doorway. She pauses, gets  her cue from Fr. Matt,  then stretches an arm upward  and rings the bell over the sacristy door.  Fr. Matt comes out singing. He is joined by the Body of Christ.
The St. James ' regulars ' at 7:10 a.m.

A thank you to Kathy Borresen, the
St. James artistic director, who patiently
supplied much of the detailed information
about the history and nomenclature of
the architecture and sacramentals.
                                                                                                       Your comments and questions are valued. 
Please send them to:

                                                                                                                            ©  2014  Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, September 7, 2014

From India with Love for the ' Least of Them"

By Robert R. Schwarz
            As two searching pilgrims, Tom and Gheeta Chitta 13 years ago stepped off their jumbo jet at  O'Hare International Airport, cringed a bit at the radical  climate change from their hometown in India, and headed for the northwest Chicago  suburb of Arlington Heights. Their mission—which they were starting from scratch—was to pitch a  base camp from where they could be reaching back to help the "rural poor"  in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Besides repeated prayers, their hope lay solely  in an Arlington Heights married couple who  had adopted a three-month-old boy from an adoption agency in India . Now they were about to meet the parents of this child, Gail and Al Walton.
     Momentum for their base camp picked up amazingly fast. The "kindness of strangers” first came with Katie McCambridge, who provided the Chittas with living quarters in her condominium for two months. After that, several other families, perceiving the missionary  zeal of Tom and Gheeta, shared their homes.   The Waltons gave them an office, and Gail Walton donated her full-time services as executive secretary. Soon, the Chittas had their base camp for a fledgling not-for-profit organization called Foundation for Children in Need (FCN).
Dr. Chitta with a student at a free  medical camp
But the milestone for FCN,  Tom said in this interview, was when Fr. Bill Zavaski, pastor of St. James Catholic Church,  offered them a parish-owned home. “Fr. Bill was a blessing in our lives," Tom said. “He changed everything for us."  And then came an annual FCN "thanks giving” banquet, sponsored by St. James and emceed by the foundation's future board secretary, Brian Reynolds, a musician who plays his drums as fervently as he promotes FCN today. Brian is now director of development of FCN and promotes its work before various groups and parish audiences .   
            Next came twelve  years of the Chittas  criss-crossing  America  by automobile and jet, annually averaging 20,000 miles  to add sponsors and bring their  FCN message to more than 400 Catholic parishes.  "I don't know of two harder working people,” Reynolds said. “Tom is not able to slow down. He has only one speed:  'faster ' . "        

     Fruits of Their  Labors
The Chittas with some of their sponsored children
  Nowadays, Tom, 60,  and his 53-year-old physician wife, Gheeta, provide leadership for an organization that brings critical aid to almost  2,200 Indian children, college students, and the elderly. They spend seven months each year at their home in Porumamilla , a town of 40,000 people  in the  continent's southeast, about 400 kilometers from  the city of Hyderabad , where there is another FCN office.   There, one sees the fruits of the Chitta’s seemingly indefatigable  labors and of the loyalties of thousands of American donors and volunteers. Here is where 2,200 children and   college students receive aid, where another 5,000 non-sponsored students annually receive dictionaries and notebooks, and where care is given to more than  500 individuals afflicted with deafness, blindness, lameness,  and physical deformities.
            FCN school is spread over  eight acres surrounded by mostly flat farmland of  sugarcane, lentils,  sunflowers, peanuts, and—if water is available—rice.  Many of the farmers here are unskilled day laborers who, working in summer (March through May) with temperatures of 100 to 115 degrees F. , earn 200 to 250  Rupees daily, or U.S.  $3 to $4. 
            Porumamilla is encircled by approximately 200 villages, all within a 20-mile radius of the FCN operation; each is   populated by 20 to 50 families.   Most people are Hindus but, Tom said during our interview, there is "a good-sized Muslim population, with whom we have an amicable relationship."    The local language is Telugu, the official tongue of Andhra Pradesh and is spoken by the third largest number of Indians. Its vocabulary has been somewhat shaped by the Sanskrit and Prakrits tongues.
            Water comes from hand-pumped "tube" wells in the villages; it is stored in tanks from which people tap it and then carry home. Most homes do not have running water.   Although typhoid, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and Hepatitis A exist, none is endemic, Gheeta explained.  "Infant mortality is about two to five per cent,” she said.  Tom added that “mosquitoes are a big problem.  “So is malnutrition.  In a recent newsletter,  FCN stated that "most of the people in the villages do not eat balanced food. The health and sanitation conditions are very poor. "
            FCN has separate hostels for 90 boys and girls in grades one through ten. The students come  from villages and are  provided with education, food, clothing, and medical care. They return home on holidays. Another 240 children daily   walk one to three miles from home to attend school and, guided by FCN staff, are given disbursement checks to deposit in their bank accounts.  All students attend classes 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 45-minute lunch break.  They have a six-week summer vacation.  FCN also provides free food, clothing, and medical care for 15 elderly at its St. Xavier's Home for the Aged. 
            Because many older children have to stay at home to look after their younger siblings and because child labor abuses are a serious problem in the region, FCN staff and social workers must encourage parents to have their children educated. Asked to relate "success" stories of his students, Tom paused, then firmly replied: "The success story   is when the student graduates and is able stand on his own two feet.”
            One such story is about Bramhaiah Chintakunta,  a college history major from a poverty-stricken family whose father  died when he was age four, forcing his mother to  work in the  fields.  "I am so grateful for a college education upon which to build the dreams of my life, " he stated.  Another success is Parameswari Palle ,  a college graduate with an engineering degree.   "I now have a bright future because of FCN,” she said.  And there is Bharath Moyela , an eleventh grader born with a protruding spinal membrane, who related : " My mother is a widow and  unskilled laborer who is looking for work each day. It was very sad to see my mom struggling to take care of my medical needs and then to send my sister and me to school. God heard our prayers and my days are bright now just because of someone in America [Fr. Bill Zavaski,  former pastor of St. James] who has sponsored me for 12 years."  
            Fr. Zavaski  recently referred to Tom and Geetha as a "blessing" for  the St. James parish.  
            Though  FCN staffs 50 people and two nurses in India , its annual fundraising disbursements of four per cent and administration costs of three per cent  (according to its 2013-14 financial report) are obviously to be envied – if not to be sought — by most not-for-profit organizations.  Reynolds, in an interview, explained that the Chittas take only a small stipend for themselves. “Everything is for the kids," he added.  Also, as a FCN factsheet points out, dollars go ten times further in India than in America.  For example, $75 will buy a bicycle for a social worker, $ 75  for a month of work from that  social worker, $240 for a year of sponsorship of a child, student, or a senior, and $10,000  will build  a classroom.            (Sponsorship and other information about FCN can be had from their website or by writing FCN,  P.O. Box 1247, Arlington Heights, Il, 60006-1247).
            Tom sees FCN as unique: "It has been built up on the sacrifice of many peoples' time, talent, and prayers,” he said.  “We are a very personable organization which keeps in timely touch with our sponsors. We keep a good link between our children and sponsors by having them exchange letters twice each year. "  Sponsors are also encouraged to take educational tours to FCN in India and visit their sponsored child or student and family. One such sponsor, a St. James member, and his sponsored child, now in the fourth grade, have been exchanging letters for six years. In one of her  letters, Mounika Kalluri, gave a full report of her studies, adding: "I am safe here. Hope you are also safe by the grace of God. "
Study and Recreation 
            Tom's parents were both primary school teachers and were from what he labeled "lower middle class.”  He has been a Catholic from birth; his father was a Hindu convert.   Tom obtained a Master's Degree in pastoral theology and counseling from Loyola University in Chicago. Gheeta obtained her medical degree (with a family practice specialty) from St. John's Medical College in Bangalore, India. Her father was a military officer, her mother a homemaker.
Tom and Gheeta met in India while both were engaged in Catholic parish ministries in Kadapa.  Both have been immersed in Catholicism all their lives. (You just might occasionally see the Chittas at mass in St. James.; they travel a lot on fund-raising missions  )         Critical help for launching their mission  also came from two non-Catholics, Gail and Al Walton.
For recreation, the Chittas read a variety of books , favor Italian food , and daily walk for an hour.  They rarely see a movie and turn the TV channel only to news.  Tom's most difficult adjustment to this region?  Without hesitating, he simply uttered, “cold weather.”  His most loved prayer is a widely-known one of St. Francis. As for scripture, he loves Matthew 25:40: "Whatever you did for one of these least of my brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  
     Husband and wife have been inspired by the work of Mother Teresa, especially Gheeta, who met this likely saint of the future when Gheeta was l7.  "I see something special in you,” Mother Teresa told her. "You , little girl,  are going to be a doctor and help the needy."
    Years later with her medical degree in hand, Gheeta told her husband:  “And when a saint tells you to do something, you do it."

comments welcomed
©2014  Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, August 31, 2014

'Night & Day ' Faith Kept Her Going After Death of Two Spouses, Nine Kids--Then Came the Cancer

       By Robert R. Schwarz  

An update to this interview , originally posted Feb. 10, 2012: 
At a weekday Mass held in the St. James church on April 29, 2013 , unexpectedly,  Fr. Joji asked that prayers be said for Phyllis , who had died the night before in her home after Fr. Bill Zavaski had given her last rites. Husband Matthew had been at her bedside. As the congregation sang "Morning Has Broken , "  he now sat in the couple's usual pew . As he  often did with Phyllis when the Lord's prayer was said, Matthew  linked hands with other worshipers . This morning,  it was one worshiper  behind him and two at  his sides, one being  Bonita ( Bonnie )  Preiss . She was a close friend of Phyllis and Matthew  who often sat next to the couple. At the end of the Mass, Matthew was heard to say, " She has made it. She's with Jesus. "
In his eulogy of Phyllis, Fr. Zavaski referred to her as a "courageous woman of incredible faith who was salt and light. "  
On June 21, 2014, Fr. Bill married Matthew and Bonnie . 

Last April, Phyllis Shields—you see her in a St. James pew nearly every morning—was diagnosed with lung cancer. This came after a life of tragedies including early deaths of two husbands and the ensuing burden of being a single mom to nine children, one with Down's Syndrome. With characteristic stiff upper lip, she refers to all of this as "disappointments." Then, a little more than five years ago, Phyllis ,at age 72 , fell in love with a retired Palatine dentist two years her senior. They married.
As we talked recently in her eighth floor condo overlooking downtown Arlington Heights—her husband Matthew Lombardi was at her side—Phyllis chose not to  wear one of her tastefully designed hats she wears at mass to cover a head of missing hair, a casualty of six chemo therapy treatments. "My hair had been salt and pepper the last few years," she said. "I hope it comes back, and I'll take any color." She smiled and so did her dark brown eyes. She then  turned serious ,  recalling her exodus trek of "disappointments." Matthew added a footnote now and then.
The big ones began nine years into her first marriage; she was then 25 and her husband a 29-year-old electrical engineer, when a brain aneurysm fatally struck him . She was left with with their two children and now forced  to find a job. For eight years she worked as a nurse's aide at the Lutheran Home, doing the kind  things for the elderly most people would flee from. "My biggest problem was seeing just how sick some of the residents were, and you had to do everything for them." When the beauty salon there lost its manager, Phyllis was hired and held the job for 12 years. "I didn't know how to do hair but I felt I could manage," she said.
Her second marriage was to a quality control manager, a widower with four children. One was Daniel, a three-year-old with Down's Syndrome. She and her husband, Bernard, taught Catholic doctrine classes at their home. During their 13 years together, she bore him three children. Then Bernard died of lung cancer in 1976, making Phyllis a single mom, now with seven children at home; two other children were living on their own. "It tore the family apart," she said, then added, "but they were good marriages."
Daniel, the oldest child, lived at home until age 25, getting a high school diploma after attending special education classes at Kirk High School in Palatine. "Daniel was a blessing to all my children," Phyllis repeated. "Everybody loved him. He was patient with them and helpful and corrected them when they misbehaved."
But although Phyllis' mothering was aided by her teenage son and younger daughter and by friendly neighbors, she had to return to work for income, yet knowing she couldn't leave Daniel alone. She placed him in Little City, a community-living shelter for children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Now 57, Daniel shares a condo with four other men and works in a Little City shop. Phyllis and Matthew used to have Daniel visit them on holidays but now, his mother explained, "He has become a homebody there. I visit him every six weeks or so and call him on the phone a lot. "
 Her Catholic Faith Got Her Through It
"After my second husband died, I couldn't go to church because I cried all the time I was there," Phyllis recalled. "Father Laramie [ then the St. James pastor ], who was my second husband's uncle, helped a lot. He visited me every Sunday. And Father Bill Zavaski [ then a new priest and now pastor ] was quite an instrument in helping me. I'd call him and we would talk and pray together. He would always listen." She reverently remembers how she was encouraged by particular words Fr. Zavaski often said to the congregation. "He'd say 'God is good !' and the congregation would reply, ' All the time ! ' "
"I knew that if I wanted a life, I had to make life come back," she continued. "You just can't bury yourself, I told myself." Her comeback came at a Grief Support meeting she attended. There she encountered a woman who had lost her husband 25 years ago. "All she did was cry, and to the point where all the widows there were shaking." Obviously reliving that moment, Phyllis gasped as she spoke: "I suddenly realized I didn't want to live like that. I told myself, "you're not dead ! "
But early in 2011, she had to face perhaps the most difficult challenge of all. It started with a bad cough that lasted three weeks and which was eventually diagnosed as lung cancer. "'I had smoked for a long time, but had quit," she said.
Tears now came as she grabbed Matthew's arm. "But Matt brought me through it. He was a very positive thinker. I begged the Lord to leave me here on earth. I had work to do for Him as well as for myself. I tried to believe in prayer but found it very difficult."
Her husband interrupted: "Everyone was praying for you: the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, the Baptists."
"I leaned on Matt for everything," Phyllis went on. "He made it bearable for me."
She said she lived her Catholic faith night and day .

The Third Time a Charm—and Blessing
     Phyllis' and Matthew's courtship began in early 2005 in their current condominium building home. They hardly knew each other . One floor separated them; she lived on the eighth and he on the seventh. A few days before New Year's Eve, Matthew, who had been widowed, asked a friend to recommend a date for him for a holiday celebration he didn't want to attend alone. "Ask Phyllis," came the friend's advice. Matthew did.
         "I hadn't been on a date in 15 years," Phyllis said.
A year later, on December 28, 2006, Fr. Zavaski married them; six other priests and two deacons co-celebrated the sacrament. Quipped Fr. Zavaski, "Their marriage reaffirms the fact that love and marriage is timeless."
Today their family includes 25 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. "Matt loves all my children and they love him," Phyllis said. She admits that Matthew "took on a lot when he married me." The couple take several family visiting trips each year, and the highlight—Phyllis' happiest event —is the annual family reunion at the end of July in Louisville, Kentucky.
Matthew had a few emotional words about attending his first family reunion in Kentucky. He was overwhelmed by his wife's 150-member family. "I'm not a hugger," he said. "But in Kentucky they hug you to death."
Missing from a recent reunion was Phyllis' brother, Kenneth, who died at age 71 from complications from Alzheimer's. He had been a Chicago policeman for 25 years.
Nowadays, Phyllis and Matthew reflect on their many past volunteer efforts which involved them as a twosome prior to the cancer treatments. The list includes the St. Vincent de Paul Society, PADS, Foundation for Children in Need, and various church duties which assist the mass. Meanwhile, they enjoy their usual diversions of "experiencing different restaurants," checking out a movie from the public library, or simply laughing at silly stuff on television reruns of "Everyone Loves Raymond." They also keep adding to the wide assortment of Nativity scenes which grace their living room and which they have decided not to pack away this year. For a private getaway, there is that land they own in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
But if you want to see Phyllis and Matthew fully alive, drop in on any weekday morning at McDonald's on Arlington Heights Road near Rand Road. There, from 8:30am to 9:30am—and maybe a bit longer-- you'll see these two in the company of five or six others who have just left the St. James mass. You'll recognize the group by the roar of belly laughter that truly fills the room, from the food counter way back to the kid's playroom. "Phyllis is the kingpin of our group," says Tom Adam, an octogenarian and often provocateur for the group's outbursts of laughter. "Nothing bad comes out of her mouth. But she can also give it back. She makes me happy when I go home."
      But the happiest outburst came from Phyllis when asked that delicate question. With sparkling eyes, I heard her announce to the world: "I am free of cancer!" 

                                                                                          comments welcome
© 2012,2013,2014  Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Suddenly She Realized She Was Decorating God's House

By Robert R. Schwarz 
The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation,
as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses
the soul with the glory of God  ( St. John Damascene,
in Catholic  Catechism 1162 )

Adorn: to add beauty, splendor, or distinction
( Webster's New World dictionary )
Posted originally March 1, 2013
In  a way, it's like the work of a fairy tale elf. You  enter the church on Christmas Eve or  during Lent or, for that matter,  on  any feast day celebrated by  St. James in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and you look at the altar and ask: who in heaven  did that and when ?  You look some again,  and though you've been coming to mass here for years, you're   now seeing  an altar you've never seen before:  flowers,  plants ,  banners , and  sacramentals  have made visible a new spiritual dimension of your church.
            As the organ pipes up,  chances are you've never seen  the altar  decorator—or artist, a more fitting word—nor  know his or her name. You pretty much  take his work for granted.  
            Well, it's Mrs. Kathy Borresen , and she's been adorning the St. James sanctuary and  altar for 17 years.  We talked recently.
            " My challenge ," she said, " is having to come up with new ideas all the time. " She corrected herself: " No, not new, but doing something usual unusually well.  Sometimes  I ask if I'm looking at altar with lazy or jaded eyes or is there something I don't see or can do better?  And then all of a sudden, you realize you're decorating God's house  and wonder what He would say if He walked through the door . Would He pat me on the back or would He say, ' You know, you're just not getting it . ' "
            Kathy  is 64 . She has light brown eyes  and  salt-and-pepper hair. For our interview she wore small, pearl-shaped earrings,  blue jeans and a gray, sleeveless  sweat shirt—she called it a "hoodie"— over a white tee-shirt.  She soon becomes animated about her "ministry"  and allows her eyes do her smiling . When she senses humor in her  words—which is often—her arms gracefully sweep upward like a cantor's prompting a congregation to sing.  And she  speaks with  sort of  a loud whisper,  with candor  that  needs no pause to weigh her words. 
Good Friday Taize Service
            Last year's altar and sanctuary  decoration for a Good Friday  TaizĂ© service she considers her best work.  "It was awesome," Kathy said, as she recalled the prayerful silence that filled the sanctuary,  lit only by 35 candles. " The music and the environment came together. "  
 Her altar artistry reflects  consummate professionalism yet Kathy admits to no formal training except for a certificate earned in Liturgy, from which she learned the importance of matching her altar design to the  color of the church's liturgical season. "You put up banners and order flowers but can you arrange them so they don't impede liturgical movement ? Can you give them a sense that all this is suppose to reflect God? "
Pentecost Service
For lack of interest in academics, she dropped out of Harper Junior College where she "gained a great education in pinochle " played in the cafeteria .  Her interest in decoration stems from the second grade where she helped the nuns decorate the first grade class rooms. " We'd come in two weeks before school would start, open the windows ( the school had no air conditioning )  and decorate the walls with mimeographed figures of ducks ."   Then,  many decades later,  came that  fateful day when a neighbor asked Kathy to help sew advent banners for St. James.  
      Her  faith , she says,  " has always been a  part of my life. "  She is a cradle Catholic; her husband a Lutheran. " But that's okay, " she joked, "I still love him ."  She says she  prays to get through the family's struggles of finances  and to get out of bed in the morning.  There is a home mortgage,  bills for a newly built garage, and college loans to pay off .  "I often wonder,  " she muses, what it would have been like to be  a stay-at-home mom and not have to work. "  She and her 71-year-old husband Tom , a night-time clerk in the Lincolnshire postal office,  raised a daughter  and son. Katie, 27, is an pre-school teacher living with her husband in Cartersville,  Georgia; and Casey, 30, a pre-sales technical specialist for an anti-virus software company. Casey currently lives with Kathy and Tom and his dog Buddy.
"My kids are happy," Kathy says,  "and that's what makes me happy . I'm sad when they are. "
" Where Else Can  You Hang a Cross on Your Office Wall "
Triduum in the Parish Center
     For the last nine years, Kathy has worked for the Chicago Province of the Society  of the  Divine Word in Techny, Illinois, where she maintains a website and  helps priests from all over the world enter the United States to study or do pastoral work. She was recently promoted to education office manager .   " When  I was twelve, I went to Techny with my grandmother for  picnics , and then years later when I needed a job and saw an  ad for a  Divine Word secretary , I knew it was my job. I've never been happier. I can take holy days off  ! I mean, where else can you hang pictures of Jesus or crosses on your office walls. ! "   (  She favors a cross over a crucifix because, she says,  "it allows you to more freely add  your own meditations to  it . " )  
     Shortly after Kathy  and Tom  married in 1979, they moved into an Arlington Heights home one block from the home in which  Kathy was raised with two sisters and five brothers, all younger that she.  Her father is dead, her mother is a Lutheran Home resident.
Getting married and having children  are what have shaped Kathy's life the most, she says.  She adds, however, that her marriage to Tom "  freaked me out because I met him at a gas station."   The first time she  pulled her car in for fuel, Tom, a mechanic there at the time, filled her tank and then , though never having seen Kathy  before, told her,  "It's on me. "    And so it was "on him" for the next six months.  "It was obviously  love at first sight, " Kathy said grinning , arms slightly rising.  When that  beastly snow storm came in the late 70's and left snow  mounds several feet high around Tom's service station entrance,  Tom stood out  in busy Dundee Road and blocked  traffic until Kathy's car had exited safely.
"You realize you're decorating God's house ! "
The couple honeymooned in Pittsburg for five days .  Though Tom had no ties at all to this city—he had never even seen it— nor to the Pittsburg Pirates, but was a Pirates fan and wanted badly  to join the street celebrations of their  world series victory that year. He hadn't seen any of the games either.  " Tom is a big sports fan, " Kathy explained , " and he likes to back  winners."  
Asked about their recreation,   Kathy sighed, then  mentioned how her husband's feet are killing him when he gets home. " We don't go out often because he's so tired. He works Saturdays so we just go out on Sundays."  And the future ?  " I have a goal that in five years we move down to Cartersville and live near my daughter.  "
comments welcome                                                                                                               
                                             © 2013,  2014  Robert R. Schwarz