About five years ago, I was attending a weekday Mass at a local church. Halfway through the Mass, two women in their sixties snuck in the side door of the church and ran over to the nearest pew. Both women were wearing gray sweatshirts. The way they scurried over to the pew reminded me of the animated mice you would see in a Disney movie — because the women were short, pudgy, cute, and grinning from ear to ear.
As they were running toward the pew, the women intentionally stooped down so it would be difficult for the priest to see them. They timed their sprint into the church to coincide with the moment the priest turned away from the pulpit and walked toward the chair on the other side of the altar. When the women ran inside, the priest’s back was to them and he did not see them.
I was familiar with the church and the priest, and it was a well-known fact among the people who attended daily Mass that the priest would become visibly irritated every time someone entered the church after Mass started.
The women’s cleverly timed sprint into the church worked perfectly. In addition to sneaking in without the priest seeing them, they provided some entertainment for the people who were already in the church.
I personally knew one of the two women and although I had seen the other woman on several previous occasions, I didn’t know her name. The name of the woman I knew was Sharon “Guppy” Litchfield.
I initially met Guppy outside the St. Philomena Adoration Chapel about 15 years ago. The day I met her she had a big smile on her face. The day she snuck into the church she had a big smile on her face. Come to think of it, it seems as though every time I saw her she had a big smile on her face.
I can guarantee you that if the priest had seen her scurry into the church and had reprimanded her, she would have still smiled. Although she avoided conflict, whenever she was confronted, she would simply smile and accept whatever happened as God’s will for her.
The first time we met we had a long conversation, after which she gave me her telephone number and offered to fill in for any adorer who was unable to show up for his or her holy hour. At that time, Georgette and I were the coordinators for the adoration program and we were in need of people who we could call on short notice to cover an open holy hour.
Before long, Guppy became our go-to person for hard-to-cover (middle-of-the-night) holy hours. I never kept track of the hours she covered, but the total was in the hundreds. I can only remember one time that she turned me down. I called her and she said that she would love to cover the open hour, but her vehicle had broken down and died on her. She couldn’t afford another vehicle at the moment, and she told me she would let me know when she acquired another vehicle.
About six weeks after our conversation, Guppy called and told me that she was again available to fill in for other adorers. I asked her if she bought a car and she told me that someone had donated an old pickup truck for her to use.
Last month, on Ash Wednesday, Guppy passed away. She was 72 years old. During her lifetime, she raised nine children of her own and helped raise more than 200 foster children. She had 66 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In addition to her dedicated service to children, she also worked for several years as a housekeeper at Sacred Heart Church and was instrumental in helping establish and run Sacred Heart’s sandwich program, which served 300 to 600 poor people every day — Monday through Friday.
I’ve previously written that my definition of a “devout” Catholic is “a Committed Catholic* who willfully and regularly engages in acts of worship and service that go beyond the requirements of the Church.”
Guppy regularly attended Mass and spent several hours in the adoration chapel each week. Although she routinely dozed off in the chapel, her behavior was an indication to me that she was exhausted from her work and her continual acts of service caring for children and serving the poor.
It was at the silent retreats for men — which I attended for eleven straight years, from 1989 through 1999 — that the retreat master, Father John A. Hardon, repeatedly reminded the men that if we weren’t completely exhausted when we laid our heads down on our pillows at night, we were obligated to confess laziness.
I don’t think that Guppy ever had to confess laziness. Why? Because she was always exhausted from her work as a devout Catholic. Yet, she still always had a smile on her face. Why was she always smiling? Because she lived her life the way our Lord intended for all of us to live our lives — as a devout Catholic who willfully and regularly engaged in acts of worship and service that went far beyond the requirements of the Church.
Guppy lived her life with a burning desire to serve our Lord. She served Him by caring for those who were less fortunate than she was. Although her human body died, she will live forever in the memories and souls of her children, grandchildren, foster children, friends, colleagues, and the thousands of people she fed with the sandwiches she made and distributed.
We were taught as children that we should seek to imitate Jesus Christ in everything we do. Our Lord sacrificed His life for all humanity. Guppy did her best to imitate Him by sacrificing her time, talents, and energy for those who were less fortunate than she was.
I’m grateful to God that He gave me the opportunity to meet and get to know Guppy. I’m looking forward to seeing her smile when we meet again. But it won’t just be Guppy who is smiling at me. It’ll also be our risen Lord, His mother, my deceased loved ones, and all the angels and saints.
*My definition of a Committed Catholic is a Catholic who (1) believes in the teachings of the Catholic Church; and (2) willingly and unequivocally follows and abides by the teachings and rules of the Church.