Grandmother Knows Best

by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 2 yrs ago

Following our stunningly beautiful Christmas Concert, a woman approached me.  She explained she was a grandmother of one of our students who had been blessed to come to Roncalli on many occasions.  She grabbed my arm and said, “There is something so special about the work you do here.  I’m from a place where there are no Catholic schools and we can’t invite God to be a part of our students’ daily lives.  If every student could go to a school like Roncalli we would not have all of the problems we have in the world today.” 

I told her I believed that with all of my heart.  Then she looked me dead in the eye, raised her voice a bit and said, “You need to let people know what goes on here!”  

This brief conversation came two days after an awe-inspiring celebration of Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. 

I had great difficulty putting it into words but I walked out of that Mass and immediately tried to express what I saw and felt in the form of a letter to our parents.  Before the grandmother had come to me I had been considering not sending the letter out. I felt like the letter could not possibly do justice to the power and awe felt in that Mass.  It was like taking a picture of the Grand Canyon with a disposable camera.  Besides, the last thing people need around Christmas is another piece of mail.  However, the sense of urgency in her voice made me feel as if God was speaking through the grandmother.  The next day I sent the letter.  Most of the text of the letter follows. 

Over 1,200 people were there, mostly teenagers, and you could have heard a pin drop.  And I thought to myself – this is why we have Catholic schools.  This makes the struggle worthwhile. I wish everyone who ever sacrificed a dime for our kids could have been there.  I wish everyone who ever wondered “is it really worth the tuition check I write each month” could have been there. I wish every parent who was thinking about sending their child to Roncalli but questioning the value could have been there.

Our chaplain, Fr. Jim Wilmoth was telling a story during his homily as we celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Among his many duties, Father is also the Chaplain of the Indianapolis Fire Department.  He told of receiving a call one night.  One of the firemen needed help.  His young daughter had been hit by a car after dinner and now she lay on death’s doorstep.  As Father walked into the hospital room he met the fireman, his wife, and a doctor.  

And the little girl.  She was unconscious and being kept alive by machines.  The doctor had been explaining to the little girl’s grieving parents that the brain damage done by the impact had left no hope of recovery.  In a very gentle way the doctor said to the parents, 

“I know this is a very difficult time for you but I want you to know that we received a call yesterday about another little girl, the same age as your daughter, who will die very soon without a kidney transplant.”  

I am sure the doctor had a few other things to say that one might say to parents at such a gut-wrenchingly painful time like this but the fireman cut him off.  “Doctor, my wife and I are people of faith.  We believe in God’s love for us and his love for our daughter.  We know everything is in His hands.  Just a few hours ago we were all sitting around our supper table having pizza together.  When my daughter finished she asked to go over to her friend’s house to play ball.  She hugged us and kissed us and ran out into the street.  She was a beautiful little girl and gave me and my wife great joy in our lives.  God gave us our little girl and for that we are forever grateful.  While we don’t understand all that has happened here, if she can now offer the gift of life to another little girl and her family perhaps that was God’s will for her and all of us. 

I know I speak for both me and my wife when I say let it be done as you suggest.”  Having several vibrant young daughters myself I had a hard time holding back my tears.  In fact, I could not.  

Minutes before, Father had read from the Gospel the words the Blessed Virgin had uttered to the Angel Gabriel after she was told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.  Her response, of course, was, “Let it be done unto me according to your word”.  Nothing in the universe has been the same since.

As we went on celebrating the Eucharist I thought to myself, I wonder if that fireman and his wife know how much their story of faith and trust in God was at this moment touching the lives of the 1,200 people who were hearing it this day.  As I looked into the faces of each student to whom I later distributed Holy Communion, I wondered what each of them meant when they replied “Amen” as I held up the host and pronounced “The Body of Christ”.  Did they really believe it?  Were they willing to shape their lives around their answer?  Were they thoughtfully responding in faith or were they mindlessly going through the motions as I have done before myself?  I’ll never know the answer to these questions.  But I can tell you what I saw.

I saw love.  I saw love in the hundreds of students who reverently bowed as the bread was turned into the body of Christ.  I saw love in the teachers holding hands with students as we fervently prayed the Our Father together.  I saw love in our seniors hugging freshmen at the sign of peace.  I saw love in the smile of Fr. Wilmoth who had a kind word for all to whom he spoke.  I saw love as Sr. Cathy Anne feverishly played her guitar as all 1,200 thundered out the chorus to “Hail Holy Queen” during the closing song.  Truly love was there.  God was there.

You might think this was a once in a lifetime experience at Roncalli.  I can tell you it happens here all the time.  You can’t bottle it.  You are at the limits of language to try to describe it.  But it’s there.  It’s real.  And it has a profound impact on our students.  It does not make them perfect.  But it strengthens them.  It helps nurture them and their dreams.  It heals them from all the world throws at them.  It gives them hope.  God was there and He touched us.  Again.

God offers us no promises on how long our life will last.  

But we do know this.  He sent His Son “that we might have life and have it abundantly”.  Someday we will see the little girl’s parents’ pain turned into glory.  Someday we will see the fruit of the sacrifices we make today to bring love alive in the lives of our students.  Someday we shall see Love face to face.  Until that time we have glimpses and images of the joy that will one day be ours.  I am so thankful that I work in a place where I see those glimpses so very often and so very clearly. 

As we get close to the time when we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, I hope you will join me in answering the challenge this grandmother has given to all of us.  Our school is very special.  Young people need what God is giving them through our work here at Roncalli.  Please join me in letting others know.  Love makes the difference in the lives of our sons and daughters.  Truly the Spirit of God fills this place.

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