God tells an amazing story through each of our lives. I have had the honor that my life has intersected with people whose stories are epic tales. Recently, I have been struck by the magnitude of God’s spiritual serendipity during the retirement festivities to honor Sister Rosario Delaney and Sister Laurentia Cusack as they prepare to say good bye after many devoted years of work at my parish, Holy Infant, in Ballwin, MO.
A parish event, called Stories Worth Sharing, was hosted by local media celebrity and ministry director, Zip Rzeppa. In his trademark interview style that blended warmth and humor, he enabled the sisters to reminisce in ways that inspired. The camaraderie of kindred spirits laughing on the stage was contagious. Zip, the comedic son of a spunky Irish Catholic lass, who raised him on faith delivered with smiles and stories, was wholly comfortable with blarney in the banter during the event.
Both sisters shared how as children, they were intrigued and captivated listening to Irish missionary nuns tell of adventures to spread the love and truth of Jesus in Africa and beyond. The stories helped ignite in each young girl a desire to follow a missionary vocation with the Sisters of Mercy also. The sparkle of dear friendship that shined between the nuns as they spoke revealed another common thread from their youths. Both of their families had been very committed to the devotional prayer life in their small parish communities.
Sister Rosario recounted that her childhood growing up was a simple life in the tiniest county of Ireland, with the beach close enough to go play for hours after school. God carried her across that ocean to the spiritual mission fields of Missouri. In Johnny Appleseed style, she came to plant seeds of faith. This able gardener for God, with her vision, determination and Irish gift of storytelling has demonstrated all the generosity she sought to teach for the 53 years she has been with us. Sr. Laurentia joined her later on and brought charm, energy and precision in her selflessness as a mathematics teacher.
One of the seedlings they tended was a young boy named Tim Dolan. Under their care, in the midst of a family that prayerfully lived their faith on Tuesdays and Saturdays as well as Sundays, he grew into a mighty oak in the church as the Cardinal and Archbishop of New York. “Father Dolan” first crossed my path as a joyful young associate at my parish of the Little Flower when my husband and I lived in Richmond Heights. We always were impressed by the insight, grace and enthusiasm of his homilies and have been happy to share him with everyone in his growth in leadership in the Church. Cardinal Dolan’s strength and courage in his work for God comes from deep and strong roots that still draw him home to Ballwin, MO from time to time. (Like in the above photo when he came to wish his beloved sisters well as they retire). He aptly expressed everyone’s sentiments while he was here saying, “Thanks be to God,” for each of their vocations; their lives given for us.
The reason I reflect on this small group of bright lights in the church who all hail from varying degrees of Irish roots is the common theme in their lives that can speak to all of us. The JOY of our Catholic faith is cultivated through their example of strong family bonds, active engagement in the spiritual endeavors of Parish life: devotions, adoration, mass and acts of service. But perhaps no less significant is that they all grew up with a cultural simplicity which I’m confident St. Patrick himself would have lauded the praise of. They had few possessions, limited entertainment, and thus gave God more opportunity to connect with them. We all might do well to make our stories a sequel to theirs.
I had the privilege of befriending Zip Rzeppa as I worked with him to edit his autobiography, For A Greater Purpose. Even without my personal involvement, I’d recommend everyone enjoy his poignantly comic personal parable.
Inspiration from the life of Cardinal Dolan is captured in the book by his brother, Life Lessons, From My Life with My Brother Timothy Cardinal Dolan by Bob Dolan.
It is my fond hope that Sister Rosario Delaney might use her retirement to capture her own dramatic spiritual journey in the pages of a book. For a title, I recommend, There and Back Again; A Sister’s Tale. She, like the humble and endearing protagonist in Lord of the Rings, left the simple life in her shire in Ireland to come to the USA a lifetime ago. America did not quite approximate Mordor in 1963, when she arrived, and she did not come to destroy a ring of power. However, in this little corner of Ballwin, MO, God used her life in a mighty way and we are holier… and far greener…because of her presence here.
Who am I? I’m Cathy Gilmore, a barely Irish author, speaker and saint-wanna-be who loves great stories, especially when they are lived right in front of me.