January 11, 2008

The gift of faith: Readers share how other' actions have impacted their lives

The example of two grieving strangers led Jon McKamey on a journey of faith that helped him to meet his wife, Joan—a union of family that also includes their daughter, Claire. (Submitted photo)

The example of two grieving strangers led Jon McKamey on a journey of faith that helped him to meet his wife, Joan—a union of family that also includes their daughter, Claire. (Submitted photo)

Editor’s note: The Criterion invited readers to share their stories of how the faith of a friend, family member or stranger during a difficult time in their life had a dramatic impact on their own faith. Here are three stories that show that impact. Thank you to everyone who shared their stories.

By John Shaughnessy

Looking back, Jon McKamey marvels at how the grace of two grieving strangers changed his life.

McCamey’s story starts when he was a senior in college and tragedy struck the family of a classmate named Jeannine. Her younger sister, Heather, a college freshman, was killed in an accident involving a train and a car. McCamey was part of a group of Jeannine’s friends who traveled from Terre Haute to Elkhart, Ind., for Heather’s funeral Mass and burial.

“The day of the funeral, my friend’s parents invited all of us to come to their beautiful home to get ready for the day,” McKamey recalls. “We had food, a shower and a place to change clothes. Sadly, it was also my friend’s parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. All of the children had done a surprise portrait for their parents before Heather was killed. They presented their parents with the portrait on the day they were burying their daughter and celebrating their anniversary.”

Jeannine’s parents were touched by the gift, and McCamey was touched by the love they showed toward Jeannine’s friends.

“When they were so very sad and suffering, they reached out to a bunch of strangers, took us into their home and offered us all they had,” he notes. “I was impressed and I considered the fact that they must have such a strong faith to be able to deal with their very personal tragedy while also taking care of us—allowing us to grieve, cry and laugh with them.

“There were hugs and words of encouragement that everything would be all right. Having not been raised as a Catholic, I wondered just what their faith was all about and how they could be so giving when they were suffering such a great loss of their own.”

During the next few years, McCamey sometimes thought about the Catholic faith, but he never investigated the Church until he moved to Cincinnati in 1988.

While driving to the grocery store one Saturday, he passed a Catholic church that had a sign that read, “Course on Catholic faith begins Sept. 20.” The sign also included a phone number for information. McCamey called the number and soon began the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program.

During that same fall, he also met a young woman, Joan Eckstein. When he was baptized on Easter in 1989, she sent him a card congratulating him. Their relationship began to develop after they sat together one Sunday at Mass.

“She invited me to come with her to a young adult faith-sharing group she was involved with,” McCamey says. “We then started seeing more of each other, began to date, and by October of that year had decided to get married. We were married on Nov. 3, 1990, at St. Louis Church in Batesville, her home parish.”

Seventeen years later, the core of McCamey’s life is built around his family and his faith—just as Jeannine’s parents built the foundation of their life.

“We are members of St. Michael Parish in Brookville with a seventh-grade daughter at St. Michael School,” McCamey says. “I feel like I’ve been a Catholic all my life, and raising our daughter, Claire, in the faith is great. Even though no one in my family of origin is Catholic, I cannot imagine having a different faith life. I think often about my friend from college and her family.”

McCamey recalls another trip he made to northern Indiana.

“When Jeannine was married several years ago, we traveled to South Bend for the wedding and made a visit to the cemetery in Elkhart where Heather is buried. I knew the approximate location of the gravesite, but it stood out to me because there on the grave was a flower arrangement just like the flowers from the wedding.

“It was a sad moment but a thankful one as I offered a prayer for Heather and her wonderful family, who played a big part in bringing me to where I am today.”

The song of a mother

For Jim Welter, there’s no forgetting the example set by his mom, Lou Ellen Welter.

As a single mother, she guided the lives of her seven children as they lived on a farm in northern Indiana in the 1950s.

“My mother went home to the Lord more than 12 years ago,” says Welter, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. “But I can still hear her humming an old Baptist hymn from her childhood as she worked around the farmhouse:

“Oh, what peace we often forfeit/Oh, what useless pain we bear/All because we do not carry/everything to God in prayer.”

“Mom took everything to God in prayer. As a single parent struggling to raise seven kids on a broken-down old farm, without resources and cut off from neighbors by distance and lack of transportation, many times she had nowhere else to turn.

“Mom prayed with expectation. She simply expected God to do what he had said he would do. It was an oft-repeated scene at our house: no money, no food, and no way to get to town to get anything. One day, when I was about 10 years old, I was crying because I was hungry and afraid there wouldn’t be anything for us to eat. I remember Mom putting her arm around me and saying, ‘Don’t cry, son. Jesus fed 5,000 people and there are only eight of us!’

“I am now in the autumn of my years and I have faced many of life’s problems: job loss, sickness, the worry parents have for their children, and the death of loved ones. It’s usually after I have exhausted all of my own efforts and have no place else to turn that I think of Mom’s faith and I remember the hymn, ‘Oh, what peace we often forfeit/Oh, what useless pain we bear/All because we do not carry/everything to God in prayer.’ ”

A moment of Christian spirit

Thomas Flood is still touched by the incredible example of faith that his nephew showed eight years ago in the midst of a family tragedy.

Flood’s nephew, Jimmy Knuerr, was 13 when his older brother died playing a sport he loved.

“Almost eight years ago, his brother, Brian, died of a heart attack in the third period of a high school hockey game in the Chicago suburbs,” recalls Flood, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. “He was checked by an opponent and dropped immediately to the ice. Later, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The check had nothing to do with it. Brian had an undiagnosed heart condition. He was 16 when he died.

“The following day, my sister had a prayer service at her house with our priest. In the midst of this prayer service, Jimmy, who was 13 at the time, announced that they must get in touch with the boy who was on the other hockey team—to make certain he was OK and that he knew it was not his fault.

“To this day, that moment of complete unselfishness and true Christian spirit on the part of a 13-year-old nephew touches my heart every time I see him.” †

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