November 20, 2020

Amid pandemic, readers share blessings as Thanksgiving nears

By John Shaughnessy

Horn of PlentyA woman finds the friendships she needs after the death of her mother.

School children live their faith with a creative effort to connect with people from a different generation.

And a woman initially distraught about being stranded in another country discovers the joy of unexpected blessings.

These stories are among the ones that readers of The Criterion shared about the blessings they have experienced in this unsettling year that has been marked by racial strife, political division and a deadly virus.

Their stories are presented here as a prelude to the upcoming week of Thanksgiving, a time to celebrate the gifts of friendship, faith, family and love in our lives.

The gifts of friendship and a mother’s love

The influence of a mother’s love is powerful in the life of Mary Schott, partly because her mother died at a pivotal point in Schott’s life.

Still, she thanks and praises God for all the women he has placed in her life since that moment.

“God took my mom at her young age of 58, and my tender age of 18, but he has been faithful,” says Schott, who is now 64 and a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. “He has brought myriad good and steadfast women into my life to mentor and walk alongside me, through all my griefs and trials.

“Women need their mothers and sometimes heavenly ones aren’t enough. I am glad God put skin on some of mine: Janice, Patty, Suzanne, Kathleen and Lucy, and many more. I keep them close to my heart. Thank you, God.”

In a year that has been challenged by COVID-19 and racial struggles, Schott also celebrates her friendship with Mary Jacobs, whom she first met during a Cursillo retreat that she attended to deepen her relationship with God.

“I happened to get very lucky by being blessed to have one of the very best Catholics, a Black Catholic, as my table leader on my retreat in 2010,” Schott says.

Jacobs introduced Schott to Our Lady of Kibeho. From 1981 through 1989, the Blessed Mother appeared to a group of children in the African country of Rwanda, sharing the message for people to repent and pray the rosary.

“It would be a dream for me to visit that site with Mary and pray there together for Our Mother’s intercession,” Schott says.

The faith journey that she already shares with Jacobs is one of the many blessings that Schott will savor this Thanksgiving.

“I am finding people who are humbling themselves, praying and fasting and calling on our Lord to heal our land. It is good to be in their number.”

‘We bring Christ with us wherever we are’

In the Connersville Deanery, Catholic adults and children have been making special efforts in October and November “to show God’s love” for residents who are isolated in nursing homes in Connersville because of the COVID crisis.

It all started when members of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville and St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty participated in “Rosary Walks” to the nursing homes. Then the third-grade class at St. Gabriel School joined the effort.

“As a part of this effort to let the residents know that we are thinking of them and praying for them, the students in the third-grade class made bird feeders,” says Michelle Struewing, their teacher. “They have also colored pictures and sent prayers for residents that are not receiving any mail. We will continue to send these pictures as a sort of pen pal project.”

Struewing says the children’s outreach is part of the school’s mission “to help the students understand the need for their involvement in the community, as well as allowing the community to see that we are here to help and that we bring Christ with us wherever we are.”

The third-graders have embraced their connection with the nursing home residents.

“The Rosary Walk helps us to pray for a lot of people,” says Julianna Seibert. “The birds visiting the bird feeders can help them imagine it is a part of their family visiting them.”

Kedryn Stapleton adds, “They may feel lonely, but when they look outside the windows and see the bird feeder, they will realize that we are all in this together.”

Ada Vu expresses the hope that everyone has: “Even though they are quarantined, the bird feeders represent that this will soon be over. We have hope!”

‘I counted my blessings instead’

The disappointment and anxiousness hit Lydia Abad hard at first. Then came a series of unexpected blessings.

“Since my retirement, I have been spending winter months in the Philippines,” says Abad, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. “In January, I flew there with a return ticket in April. Then the quarantine was issued in March. I thought I could still be back by April, but how wrong I was.”

Before she finally returned to Indianapolis in July, it would be the longest time she stayed in the Philippines since she left her homeland to live in the United States. It would also be her most fulfilling time there.

“After getting over the anxieties by not focusing on it all the time, I counted my blessings instead,” Abad says. “The blessings were getting to know and reconnect with my relatives and friends and meeting new ones. Before the quarantine, I was invited to join a Bible study group. Therefore, I got to know the priest and members of the study group.

“I also got to be more involved in my neighborhood. During this crisis, I was able to help with meals and especially financial assistance for the children. On Easter Sunday, we had goodies for them in the open field. I also felt glad to be there for our housekeeper and her family who needed guidance during this time.”

All those bonds and memories filled her heart when she was able to take a flight to Indianapolis in July.

“So grateful to be back,” she says. “However, the seven months were also a blessing for me to be able to share God’s gifts with others.”

A challenging reality becomes a wonderful opportunity

In 43 years of teaching in Catholic schools in the archdiocese, Chris Evans has strived to find the unique specialness of each child and each situation.

That approach has especially guided her in a year when the COVID-19 crisis has challenged the talents and gifts of every teacher and administrator.

Evans has also found a way to bring her 11 first-grade students at St. Christopher School in Indianapolis closer to God.

In a usual school year, the students at St. Christopher participate together in a weekly all-school Mass. But in a year when the COVID crisis demands social distancing, only one grade each week goes to Mass in the parish church while the students in the other grades watch a video feed of the Mass in their classrooms. It’s a reality that Evans has turned into an opportunity.

“In first grade, kids don’t understand all the different parts of the Mass,” says Evans, who has taught 42 years at St. Christopher. “And when you’re in church, you can’t stop and explain it to them.

“But when we’re in our room watching on the smart boards, I can stop and say, ‘Boys and girls, this is the consecration. That’s the part of the Mass where Father is actually changing the bread and wine into Jesus right here. This is when Jesus shared his meal at the Last Supper with the Apostles, and we get to share in the meal, too.’

“My kids are learning the parts of the Mass easier now. It’s more meaningful to them.”

Coming together as a family

The memories and stories came rushing back to the grown children of Rose Marie Leonhard. And the tears and the laughter helped fill the holes in their hearts as they came together in the last days of the woman who had blessed their lives with so much care, so much love.

Those shared moments also brought the siblings and their spouses even closer as a family.

“This year, I find myself grateful for blessings within the most difficult times, especially the opportunity to be with my mother in her last weeks of life this past August,” says Franciscan Sister Barbara Leonhard.

“Like so many people in assisted living or nursing home residences, due to the COVID pandemic, Mom was unable to have visitors from mid-March until she was taken to the hospital. In the end, we were able to be with her daily. I was reminded of the blessings that surrounded our family along the way. Never was I more thankful for my siblings and their spouses. We supported one another each step of the way, each of us using our gifts in the ways we could best care for Mom.”

Sister Barbara also praised the people on the frontlines who cared for her mother, who would have turned 100 on Dec. 3.

“We felt so thankful for the nurses and doctors who treated Mom with gentleness and respect, and who spent time with us as we made our way toward decisions we found difficult to make.”

Her thoughts then returned to her mom.

“Needless to say, I am hugely grateful for Mom—her resilience, her creativity, her enjoyment of life, her smile, her love of family and friends. She was the best.”

The gift of a lifetime

Mary Ann Kruer celebrated her 90th birthday on Oct. 27, a celebration that was marked by what she considers the best gift of her life—her family.

A party had been planned for her at her parish, St. Mary-of-the-Knobs in Floyd County. Yet while the coronavirus crisis derailed that plan, she did celebrate with each of her six living children individually.

On her special day, she also celebrated two other blessings: the fact that she is able to live by herself and that five of her children are within two minutes of her home.

“My family is my whole life. They are so caring, and they make it possible for me to live by myself,” Kruer says. “Another child lives in Indianapolis, and she calls to give me pep talks. And my in-laws are the best people in the world. I am so very thankful for my family every day.”

Kruer is also grateful for her 62 years of marriage to her late husband John. And she talks fondly of her daughter Martina—”my child in heaven”—who lived a long life after being born with Down syndrome.

“I asked God to take care of her, and he did,” she says. “My faith has meant a lot to me. It’s gotten me through tough times.”

She hadn’t been able to attend Mass in person since March because of the coronavirus, but she drove to her church on Nov. 8 when the parish came together on a beautiful autumn Sunday morning for an outdoor Mass.

“I stayed in my car, but it was good to be there,” she says.

She begins every day with that approach of gratitude, sharing an e-mail with her children that contains a positive poem or quote. Here is one of her favorites, a timely thought for Thanksgiving:

“I am so thankful
For all of you 
Let your hands
Be so busy
Catching blessings
There is no room to
Hold on to grudges
Be kind
Love you.” †


Related story: In thanksgiving: The power of prayer is a blessing in a mother’s journey home

Local site Links: