Last Tuesday evening (October 16) while I was participating in a holy hour in a perpetual adoration chapel in Cleveland, Ohio, I learned that my second-biggest Adoration Letter fan was scheduled to have her leg amputated. Georgette and I had arrived in Ohio on Monday evening for two days of meetings with a group of business owners who get together three times a year to share ideas and strategies for growing their businesses.
Whenever I’m out of town, I find a local adoration chapel so I can maintain my daily ritual of spending an hour with our Lord. When we’re out of town together, Georgette joins me for my daily holy hour. Although we ordinarily silence and put away our cell phones when we’re in the chapel, Georgette placed her cell phone in vibrate mode and kept it with her when she went into the chapel. Because we were out of state, she wanted to make sure she was available in case an emergency arose at home.
During our holy hour, Georgette received a phone call. It was from our youngest daughter Teresa. She called to tell Georgette that Mary Merdian had called. Mary is a former member of St. Philomena’s who currently lives in North Carolina. The message that she left was that her younger sister, Sister Roberta Houlihan, was scheduled to have her right leg amputated on Wednesday (October 17).
After Georgette received the message from Teresa, she returned to the chapel and asked me to pray for Sister Roberta. At that time I was finishing my rosary, so I offered my holy hour and rosary up for Sister Roberta.
Later that evening I called Mary Merdian and she told me that Sister Roberta had gone through emergency open-heart surgery two weeks ago. Sister Roberta had a history of heart problems and had previously been treated for blood clots and circulation problems in her leg. Prior to the surgery, it was her doctors’ intention to perform a triple bypass, but they had to cut the surgery short (after completing a double bypass) because they were concerned that Sister Roberta wasn’t strong enough to endure a longer surgery.
Shortly after the surgery, Sister Roberta started experiencing severe pain in her leg. She was given medication for the pain, but her leg got worse, and her doctors finally concluded that her leg needed to be amputated.
I started becoming concerned about Sister Roberta last week after realizing that she had not posted any comments to my online articles for the past three weeks. About three years ago, she started posting positive and encouraging comments every week. Although she is 86 years old, it seems as though she always has the energy level of a 35 or 40-year-old. Prior to her retirement at the age of 80, Sister Roberta worked as a counselor at Peoria Notre Dame High School.
My biggest Adoration Letter fan is my 80-year-old mother, Kathryn Williams. My second-biggest fan is Sister Roberta. Earlier this year, Sister Roberta sent an email to me that stated she was being transferred by her religious order from Peoria to St. Louis. In August, she moved to the Nazareth Living Center in St. Louis (formerly known as the Nazareth Retirement Home for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet).
We don’t think or hear much about the old priests, sisters, and nuns who as young men and women gave up their freedom so they could serve our Lord and the members of His church. They were the warriors who did their best to hold together our faith and our church during the waves of evil attacks that took place during the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.
In September, Sister Roberta sent me a letter. Here are a few of the observations she made in her letter:
In the last month, as I have reunited with so many of my sisters and have met many new friends, I see MY concerns more than theirs, as I witness the challenges each is handling daily with grace-filled courage – not only in skilled care residents, but also in those who live along side me in assisted living. I notice – and ponder – the joyful expressions along with pain-filled bodies, as my heart speaks to God on their behalf.
Picture this recent scene in our community room: A large number had gathered to celebrate the 102nd birthday of our Sister Alex. From her wheelchair, Alex gave a little speech thanking God for LIFE and much more. She has learned to handle her electric wheelchair without assistance, although there is always a caregiver on hand when needed. She is pure joy!
What I like least about the residents is their physical – and sometimes mental – limits. These hinder their movements and make it difficult for them to fully respond to and interact with us as they once could in past years.
On Saturday (October 20), I called Mary Merdian and asked how the surgery went. She told me that the doctors were originally going to amputate below the knee but ended up having to amputate above the knee. She indicated that Sister Roberta is now being treated for pneumonia. Sister Roberta is Mary’s younger sister by 20 months. Mary said that she talked to Sister Roberta for a short time two days after the surgery and her 86-year-old sister told her, “This is an opportunity for a new beginning!”
It’s not easy growing older, waiting patiently for God to finally extend an invitation to enter into His Kingdom. We could learn a few things from these old Catholic warriors who continue to grow stronger and more resilient in their faith with each new challenge.
I feel bad that I can’t stop in to pay a visit to Sister Roberta in St. Louis. After all, she stopped by my website every week for the past three years to support and encourage me. But I can at least ask for prayers. Can you offer up a Mass, a rosary, or a holy hour for Sister Roberta? And while you’re at it, can you also offer up some prayers for her older sister, Mary Merdian, and her fellow residents at the Nazareth Living Center?
It would also be nice if you could send a note or a card in the mail to Sister Roberta Houlihan, 2 Nazareth Lane, Box 513, St. Louis, Mo, 63129-7600.