July 23, 2021

The bonds of grandparents and grandchildren extend across generations

Megan Gehrich poses for a photo with her grandparents, Ed and Sandy Gehrich of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin. (Submitted photo)

Megan Gehrich poses for a photo with her grandparents, Ed and Sandy Gehrich of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: Pope Francis has proclaimed July 25 as the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, recognizing the tremendous impact this group has on the lives of grandchildren, families and younger people. With that impact in mind, The Criterion invited readers to share their stories about how their grandparents—or another older person—have influenced their life, marriage, family and faith. Here are several of their stories.)

Second of two parts

By John Shaughnessy

An extra twist to this story will be shared soon. For now, the details of the love between grandparents and grandchildren in the Gehrich family all lead back to the day when Sandy Gehrich’s grandmother underwent surgery for a life-threatening condition.

Gehrich’s grandmother—Mary Ellen Spangler—was 54 at the time when she entered a Catholic hospital for the operation. And when the surgery was successful, she so appreciated the outcome—and the special care that she received from the religious sisters at the hospital—that she decided to become Catholic.

“She felt that she was called to be Catholic after that experience, and she did not let her age deter her from making that decision,” Sandy says. “She was baptized a Catholic on Dec. 21, 1937, and I was born three years later on Dec. 3, 1940.”

Their noteworthy December moments were just the beginning of their special bond—a bond that would grow stronger through the years because of a life-changing experience that Sandy had with her grandmother.

“Though I was baptized Methodist at birth and enjoyed going to Irvington Methodist Church with my parents, my earliest memory of the Catholic Church was at the age of 4,” recalls Sandy, an Indianapolis native. “I loved going to Our Lady of Lourdes Church with my grandma. I was told that from an early age I would often say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be Catholic.’ I felt God was always drawing me toward Catholicism.”

Spangler died when Sandy was 12, leaving the granddaughter heartbroken. But it was also a time, she says, when her grandmother’s “love for her Catholic faith became even more present and stronger in my life.”

“As I grew up, I knew I wanted to be the kind of mother and grandmother that she was,” Sandy says. “She lived a very hard life, and yet she never lost sight of her Catholic faith.”

Sandy also never lost her desire to become a Catholic or be like her grandmother. And she believes her grandmother had an influence regarding the man she would meet on a blind date when she was 19.

“He was Catholic!” she notes. “God is good and faithful, and he had this in mind for me all along! I knew my grandma played a role in that as a part of the communion of saints. After dating for over a year, we became engaged.”

When Ed Gehrich asked Sandy’s parents for permission to marry her, he talked to them about his faith, saying, “I don’t want Sandy to become Catholic for me.” Sandy’s parents responded, “That’s all she has ever wanted.”

A short while later, Sandy was received into the full communion of the Church.

“That was 59 year ago,” says Sandy, now a member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin. “Throughout my lifetime, being a wife to Ed, raising three sons, and being a grandmother to eight, I have felt my grandma’s presence in my life.

“Her faith, and especially the way she lived her life, has influenced and inspired me to live as Christ would and to share my faith as often as I can. The story of my grandmother is something I love to share, because I feel it is very unique as to me becoming Catholic.”

Now for the extra twist to this story.

‘God’s gifts are abundant’

After writing her tribute to her grandmother, Sandy Gehrich asked her granddaughter, Megan Gehrich, to forward it to The Criterion. Megan did and included a note that added, “As a surprise, I would like to send one in about how my grandma influences my faith life, but I would only want mine published if hers is published, because I don’t want to take away from her submission. Her story of her grandma is quite beautiful.”

So is Megan’s tribute to her grandparents.

“My grandma, Sandy Gehrich, and my grandpa, Ed Gehrich, have been faithful influences on my life since I can remember, and even before that,” notes Megan. “My mom was not raised Catholic, and though my dad was raised Catholic, at the time I was born, he was not practicing. I’ve been told that it was at the urging of my grandma that my parents got me baptized in the Catholic Church.”

Her grandmother didn’t stop there in helping her family embrace the Catholic faith, Megan says. And just as there was the defining experience of Sandy’s grandmother in the Catholic hospital, Megan’s family had a defining experience of faith, too.

“Several years later, my sister and I were supposed to sing at Mass and my mom had to take us,” Megan recalls. “During the Mass, she felt like God was speaking to her through the liturgy and telling her to become Catholic. She signed up for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults instruction, and my grandma was her sponsor. Every week, my grandpa would come down to babysit us, while my grandma went to the classes with my mom.”

The changes kept coming.

“During Easter Vigil, when my mom came into the Church, my dad felt a calling from God to also come back to the Church and to cherish and share the gift of faith that he had all along,” says Megan, the daughter of Dave and Angie Gehrich.

“I feel that my grandparents instilling the faith in their son from his birth, sponsoring my mom as she came into the Church, and being a constant source of spiritual encouragement is what has led me to this point in my life.”

Megan tries to lead people to a deeper relationship with God and the Church as the coordinator of youth ministry and religious education at St. Mary Parish in Greensburg. She views her efforts as a reflection of her grandparents.

“My grandparents generously share their time, talent and treasure in as many ways as they can, as often as they can, and they are highly involved at their parish, St. Rose,” Megan says. “Hearing the stories of their involvement, especially being a youth minister, really brings me joy.”

So does the witness of their lives, their marriage and their faith.

“My grandparents have been married for 59 years, and that whole time—even through struggles, loss and heartache—their faith has never wavered, but instead has become stronger.

“Grandma and Grandpa have always been an inspiration of the Catholic faith to me, and our conversations about our faith in God will be something that I treasure. They perfectly combine quiet and steadfast faith with a joyful willingness to share their blessings with everyone.”

Looking back across the generations, Megan thinks about her great-great-grandmother— Mary Ellen Spangler—and how that long-ago, near-death experience gave life to the faith of a family. And Megan thinks of how her grandmother and grandfather have continued that legacy.

“My Catholic faith and the heritage that it stems from is something that I feel so incredibly grateful for in this life,” Megan says.

“To think about the timeline of how the Catholic faith has been passed down and shared within our family is a true testament that God has absolutely perfect timing, and that God’s gifts are abundant.” †

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