March 26, 2021

A family’s painful battle with COVID leads to an unexpected blessing

Leo and Maria Solito and their children, pictured in this Christmas photo, turned to their faith in 2020 after several family members battled COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

Leo and Maria Solito and their children, pictured in this Christmas photo, turned to their faith in 2020 after several family members battled COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: As part of our coverage of the ongoing influence that the pandemic is having on the faith lives of people, The Criterion invited our readers to share their experiences. Here are some of their stories.)

Second part of a series

By John Shaughnessy

The COVID-19 virus hit the family of Maria and Leo Solito hard, leaving the couple and four of their five children struggling with fevers and headaches at home together.

Maria also experienced “sharp, burning pain from my chest down”—pain that left her “so tired and losing my strength to fight as my thoughts were getting numb.”

It was even worse for Leo whose cough, weakness and shortness of breath became severe near the end of March of 2020.

“He had so much difficulty overall that he felt abandoned by God,” Maria recalls. “He continued to pray with me and would often stare at the cross on our wall. He had gotten so weak and had surrendered. He asked for my forgiveness on all of his shortcomings. Then he entrusted to me our five children.”

When she reminded him of his marriage proposal offer to “Grow old with me,” he agreed to have Maria take him to the emergency room.

Just before they left for the hospital, Maria received a text from Father Joby Abraham Puthussery, who was then the associate pastor at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. Members of the parish had already been generous in praying and providing meals for the family. Now, the priest was checking to see how Leo was doing.

When Maria told him she was taking Leo to the emergency room, Father Puthussery said he would mobilize the prayer warriors of the parish. Maria’s sister did the same to family and friends through social media.

The next morning, Leo contacted her from his hospital bed, requesting to come home.

“He said that suddenly his fever and oxygen level had improved and that his nurses were amazed,” Maria recalls.

Back at home, Leo’s nightmare with COVID-19 continued—literally.

“Every time he fell asleep, he would have nightmares [and] I had to wake him up,” Maria says. “He eventually admitted that in his dreams, he had been wrestling against the devil. After three days of these dark attacks, God’s loving grace poured on us again.”

Finally, after two weeks of battling the virus, Leo had recovered. When St. Luke’s pastor, Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, heard the good news, he told Maria, “God still has plans for him.”

Leo thought so, too.

“As soon as our church opened up for daily Mass, we started attending together,” Maria recalls. “Since his attending daily Mass was a surprise to me, I asked him, ‘Why are you coming to Mass with me now?’ He replied, ‘Because after COVID-19, I thought I’d like to make more good memories with you.’ ”

He has also strived to make a deeper connection to his faith.

“After COVID-19, he became personally passionate about his faith,” Maria notes. “Suddenly one day he said, ‘I think I know now my calling.’ He enrolled in Notre Dame’s online catechism course beginning this year. He also started attending the ‘That Man is You’ program at our parish after a co-parishioner friend had been trying to invite him for more than a year now. Among our circle of friends, he had recently volunteered to host a weekly Zoom online study.

“It is amazing how our God is so patient, and he never gave up in pursuing us.”

That deepened dedication to the Catholic faith has spread through the family.

“With my sister’s prompting to help cope from our social isolation, we started a weekly Zoom meeting with all my siblings and our kids who are scattered all around the world,” Maria says. “We pray together, watch a faith formation video and discuss the questions provided. It’s amazing how our kids and the cousins grew in knowledge and wisdom about our faith in a matter of six months. We are still doing this online fellowship.”

A year later, she feels blessed by God.

“God is good all the time, and so is his Church through which he expresses his love and mercy.”

The gift of awe and wonder

Learning about St. Catherine of Siena’s three types of tears helped Benedictine Sister Kathleen Yeadon through the pandemic.

So did her own dedicated efforts to see God working in her life.

And in the loneliest days of the pandemic, Sister Kathleen found companionship and hope in praying novenas to different saints.

Now as she reflects on the past year, she believes that God gave her “the retreat of a lifetime.”

“Time has always been important to me,” she says. “When we began the total shut down at Our Lady of Grace Monastery [in Beech Grove], I didn’t want to wake up and realize I had missed many moments and months of life. Since we were in Lent, a 40-day period, I realized I better do chunks of time. I began to make goals and be observant of each day.”

That approach included a focus on the life of St. Catherine and the three types of tears that she cried: bitter tears, fearful tears and tender tears.

“These allowed her to understand God’s work in her life. It helped her with surrendering her life to God and her search for a deeper union,” Sister Kathleen says. “I could apply those various tears and see how they were moving me away from areas of my life—letting go of situations, unmet expectations or relationships—and moving me closer to God.”

 She’s also found herself moving closer to the people in the neighborhoods around the monastery as she’s taken frequent walks during the pandemic.

“I walked so much and prayed for my neighbors. I feel like I know them.”

The past year also became a time of more intense reflection. She kept charts of the ways the Holy Spirit revealed his presence in her life. And she wrote extensively in her journal.

“They were immersions into grace and mystery and seeing God’s fingerprints,” she says. “I find reflection and journaling are ways to handle the unknown and not get caught up in fear. Being creative gives me energy. Working with themes and the reflection that comes out of it is life-giving.

“I am always amazed how God works in our lives. I truly believe the gift of awe and wonder is our best defense against the struggles of aging and daily life. It is a great offensive game to see God taking the small details of our lives to create a beautiful pattern of mercy and grace.”

She has found that pattern of mercy and grace in the past year, even amidst the challenges and uncertainty of the pandemic.

“I am grateful for not having suffered as many have. I am grateful that God allowed me the time to design prayer and spiritual growth by following the work of the Holy Spirit. God totally designed my desire to live these days with God.” †

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