In their pastoral letter for the Year of Faith, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that “The fruits of evangelization are changed lives and a changed world,” and that accepting the Gospel goes beyond what we feel and what we know.
“It also comes from the way we serve others,” they wrote.
Here are the stories of four senior citizens who are using their gifts to do the works of the Gospel.
It takes a lot of energy to push people in wheelchairs, so Michael Faley, 92, exercises a couple of days a week to keep in shape to be a transport volunteer at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill. Also, he pointed out, transporting itself is a good workout.
“More senior citizens should volunteer,” he said. “They can get a lot of benefits from it, like contact with people and being able to move their bodies around. And some of my greatest satisfaction is in helping people. One of my bosses called it being a servant — a welcoming and sincere servant.”
Faley, a widower with seven children, is a retired salesman for a railroad company and has given a lifetime of volunteer service in both Catholic and secular settings. He has been a Knight of Columbus for 70 years and recently worked with their candy drive to benefit individuals with developmental disabilities. He is involved with the local St. Patrick’s Society and this year was the parade marshal on St. Patrick’s Day. As a veteran of World War II (he served in an Army field hospital in Europe), he belongs to the American Legion and the VFW, and sold poppies for the VFW in May. He has been an adult altar server at St. Bernard Parish and now reads at mass two days a week.
Last year, Faley earned the Illinois Governor’s Award for his 29 years of volunteer service at the medical center. His reason for all that dedication is simple.
“Part of the mission of the sisters at the hospital is to help patients get well,” he said, “and I feel like I’m a part of that.”
Betty Krupp, 76, and her husband Ron, 80, of Lisle, Ill., faced many issues that she said challenged their faith when they were raising their four children.
|Betty and Ron Krupp
“We survived all the medical problems. We survived having a developmentally disabled child,” she said. “We had so many people supporting us that we said there would come a time in our lives when we can give back. Now part of what we do to live out our faith is to find groups that we want to volunteer with, to help others.”
Krupp, a retired teacher and youth minister, and her husband live at Villa St. Benedict, a senior independent living facility run by Benedictine nuns. One of their first volunteer projects was with Special Olympics, and their latest is with Operation Support Our Troops America, a nonprofit that serves American troops deployed in harm’s way. She is vice president, and he contributes his background in computer expertise.
“We had conversations with friends from the Vietnam War era, and we wanted our troops to never again be treated like they were, not when they are serving, and not when they come home,” she said about the frequent hostility towards American military in Vietnam. “I truly believe in the mission of what we do.”
The organization sends comfort boxes filled with requested items, and in March packed the one millionth pound. They sent 5,000 hand-filled Christmas stockings for Christmas, and deliver baby baskets to moms.
“We want them to know that somebody is thinking about them,” Krupp said. “We also are in partnership with the Army Golden Knights Parachute Teams, and we have seminars for parents who lost their children to war. The culmination of the seminar is that they can jump in tandem with a Golden Knight.”
Sometimes Krupp simply listens when people need to talk about the experiences of military life, and that simple presence is a comfort.
“I think that in many ways volunteering is a good way to witness to Christ,” she said. “Over my life, I have prayed so many times for help, and you never know when that help is going to come. Our faith has taught us to be there for others, and I think that it’s fulfilling anytime you open yourself to others.”
The importance of simplicity is one of the greatest lessons that Nancy Conboy learned in 17 years of volunteering with Good Shepherd Hospice, part of the Catholic Health Services of Long Island, N.Y.
“Everyone that I meet says that nothing is important except family, not the killing of yourself to have things,” she said. “They taught me how they love one another, how they love their families. It’s really quite beautiful.”
Conboy, 76, of Commack, is assigned by request to dying individuals at the Gurwin Geriatric Center. She visits them weekly until they pass away, often just sitting quietly, holding their hands, and praying with them and for them. She has been with people when they passed and once she was present when a family sang and joyfully celebrated the person’s life.
She felt called to the bedside ministry when her mother was in a nursing home and Conboy saw people dying alone.
“I saw this one woman all by herself when she was passing,” she said. “She had outlived everybody and didn’t have a family. It moved me and I thought ‘If I could just be there.’”
Conboy, who is a wife, mother and retired teacher, has done other volunteer work in her church, Christ The King Parish, and in outside organizations.
“Volunteering with hospice is in a sense recognizing the dignity of the person, that they are somebody,” she said. “The message that I get from this is that we should be loving one another, and it’s so easy to do.”
Tradition holds that the remains of St. James were carried from Jerusalem to Spain and buried at the site that’s now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Following that journey became one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in medieval times, and it continues to attract tourists and the faithful.
“From what I was reading, in the early pilgrimages people were looking for miraculous cures and answers to unsolvable problems,” said John Conway, 66, of Wellman, Iowa. “Then it evolved into a pilgrimage that itself was as much of a faith journey as actually getting there.”
Conway decided to make that journey himself after seeing Martin Sheen in The Way. In mid-May, he left his son in charge of his farm where he raises corn, soybeans and beef cattle, and flew to Spain. He’s doing it for his own faith and also to share it with others by posting photos, scripture, prayers, daily mass readings and his own experiences on pilgrimfarmerjohn.blogspot.com. It’s contemporary evangelization through the Internet.
“If St. James would have had this technology, he would have used it,” he told OSV before his departure.
He’s praying the Rosary daily, stopping for evening vespers at monasteries and convents, and will take a side trip to Lourdes to present petitions from fellow parishioners at St. Joseph Church.
“What I hope to confirm from this journey is that regardless of where people are from and what language they speak, that they are by far, for the most part, good people, and that they have good hearts and good souls,” Conway said.
He expects to end the 1,100-mile walk to the cathedral in time to celebrate the feast of St. James on July 25. His wife Cathy, their daughter Kelly, and Cathy’s sister Bev will meet up with him to walk the last six days. He will end his journey at the coast at Finnesterre, which means “the end of the earth” — a traditional pilgrim’s homage to the apostles who were instructed to take Christ’s message to the ends of the earth.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.