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The sick, our everyday heroes

By Sister Constance Veit, lsp
 
Recently two of my family members were talking about a mutual friend who, though chronically ill, routinely does heroic acts of kindness for others. Though they get exasperated with her when she overextends herself, they realize that caring for others is what makes life meaningful. I thanked God that these women are kind enough to support their friend through both good times and bad, helping her to live a full life.
 
This incident came to mind as I read Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Sick (celebrated this year on Feb. 11) in which he reflects on St. Bernadette’s relationship to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady spoke to Bernadette “as one person to another,” he says, treating her with great respect, even though she was poor and sickly. “This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life.”
 
In light of the expanding legalization of assisted suicide, Pope Francis’ insights are invaluable.
 
Studies have shown that the majority of people who support assisted suicide do so because they fear the loss of personal autonomy and dignity in their final days. Suffering, they say, is meaningless and should have no place in the human experience. It seems that the thought of having to go on living when faced with serious disability or illness is becoming unacceptable in our post-Christian society.
 
What I find most tragic in this exaltation of independence and personal choice is that this attitude denies the beautiful reality that we are made for community. Created in the image and likeness of God, who is a Trinity of Persons, we are inherently relational, not autonomous. Mutual dependence, rather than independence, is the true Gospel value, and so we should not be ashamed when we need the assistance of others. Our weakness or infirmity can be a graced opportunity for those who help us, as well as for ourselves, for as St. John Paul II so often repeated, we can only find fulfillment through the sincere gift of self to others.
 
This is why Pope Francis is asking us to honor the sick by helping them to share their gifts and abilities. “Let us ask Mary Immaculate for the grace always to relate to the sick as persons who certainly need assistance,” he writes, “but who have a gift of their own to share with others.”
 
St. Bernadette turned her frailty into strength by serving the sick and offering her life for the salvation of humanity. The fact that Mary asked her to pray for sinners, the pope writes, “reminds us that the infirm and the suffering desire not only to be healed, but also to live a truly Christian life.”
 
Social media has allowed me to become acquainted with numerous heroes who go on giving in the midst of tremendous suffering. If you are looking for inspiration just Google Zach Sobiech or Lauren Hill, young adults who made a difference in the world while dying of cancer; J.J. Hanson, president of the Patients Rights Action League, who triumphed over a brain tumor; or O.J. Brigance, a former professional football player who inspires thousands though he is completely paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease.
 
I am sure that you have unsung heroes in your midst in the person of sick, disabled or elderly persons who enrich your life despite their own trials. This year as we celebrate the World Day of the Sick, let’s honor these everyday heroes by letting them know that we admire them and are there for them in their moments of need, and by asking them to pray for us.
 
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
 
  • Published in World

Christmas Day Fire in 1905

Fairfield, Dec. 26, 1905

Dear Bishop –
I have a most calamitous news to tell you. The church and the house here were destroyed by fire yesterday – nothing but some house furniture was saved. I cannot account for it. At about half past twelve, I looked in the church to see that the outside doors were closed, to keep the heat in – and I saw nothing out of the way, hardly more one hour after the smoke was coming out in heavy clouds from the steeple. This took place at about two o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yours in grief, N. J. LaChance



St. Patrick’s parishioners had decorated the church beautifully for Christmas with evergreens and candles – which were left to continue burning around the altar after the last Mass was over. Fairfield had no firefighting resources readily available and little could be done to save the church, rectory and stable. The fire burned through and completely destroyed the structures. At the time, it was said to have been the worst in the town’s history. Damage was valued at about $25,000 by Father Napoleon (Norbert) J. LaChance. The wooden church, complete with a wooden steeple, had been built about 40 years prior, replacing the first St. Patrick’s, which had been a brick structure with a small belfry, originally erected in 1847.

While the Catholics were displaced from their own church building, the Congregational church building was made available for their use for as long as necessary. Thanks to Father LaChance’s direction, the generosity of parishioners and some funds from the church’s insurance policy, the current St. Patrick Church was under construction within a year of the fire and dedicated on Sept. 20, 1910.

--------------------
Kathleen Messier, Archivist
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington 

St. Michael’s College a 2017 ‘Best College Value’

St. Michael’s College in Colchester has been named to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance’s list of the Top 300 Best College Values of 2017. Schools making the list “embody exceptional academic quality and affordability,” according to Kiplinger’s.
 
St. Michael’s also was a Kiplinger’s Best College Value of 2016.
 
Introduced in 1998, the rankings highlight public schools, private universities and private liberal arts colleges that combine outstanding academics with affordable cost, and this year combine those three categories into a single, comprehensive list. In addition, Kiplinger has ranked the top 100 best values in each category, and St. Michael’s earned a spot on the magazine’s list of “100 best values in private universities.”
 
Kiplinger assesses value by measurable standards of academic quality and affordability. Quality measures include the admission rate, the percentage of students who return for sophomore year, the student-faculty ratio and four-year graduation rate. Cost criteria include sticker price, financial aid and average debt at graduation.
 
“I’m thrilled to see St. Michael’s included on the Kiplinger’s Best Value list again this year,” said Michael Stefanowicz, St. Michael’s director of admission. “What a wonderful accolade that celebrates our campus-wide commitment to a high quality liberal arts education, as well as the innovation and care that are characteristic of our focus on affordability and retention.”
 
Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, said that with the rankings, which weigh affordability alongside academic quality, “our goal is to help students and their parents understand what’s really worth the price … [and] all 300 schools on the list are of extraordinary value, being chosen out of a universe of 1,200.”
 
At Kiplinger.com, visitors have access to the "Find the Best College for You” tool and other tools that let readers sort by admission rate, average debt at graduation and other criteria for all schools, plus in-state and out-of-state cost for public universities.
 
The complete rankings are now available online at kiplinger.com/links/colleges and will appear in print in the February 2017 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, on newsstands Jan. 3.
 
St. Michael’s College, founded on principles of social justice and compassion, is a selective, fully residential Catholic college. Its closely connected community delivers internationally-respected liberal arts and graduate education. To prepare for fulfilling careers and meaningful lives, young adults there grow intellectually, socially and morally, learning to be responsible for themselves, each other and their world.
  • Published in Schools

The Gift of Siblings

According to recent headlines, the population explosion so alarmingly projected 50 years ago has not materialized, and we may well consider whether it’s time to rethink attitudes toward children.
 
Notwithstanding those who long for children but because of life circumstances or infertility find themselves unable to have them, there is a view of children in modern culture as burdensome.
 
A 2014 Pew study reported that nearly half of Americans (48 percent) say two is the ideal number of children, and fewer than 14 percent of women today have four or more children, compared to 40 percent in 1976. Sixty-five percent of Americans surveyed cited the costs associated with raising children for the preference for smaller families and the difficulties associated with finding childcare. Some argue that it is in the best interests of children for parents to limit family size in order to concentrate emotional and economic resources on existing children.
 
But are they right? Loving parents work hard and sacrifice much for their offspring. What if it turns out that the best insurance of future happiness parents could give their children, beyond any material benefit, is that of siblings?
 
In fact, evidence is mounting that larger families may be essential for the survival of society itself. Ten years ago, theologian George Weigel warned that Europe was destroying itself, and America would soon follow. He wrote, “By the middle of this century, if present fertility patterns continue, 60 percent of the Italian people will have no personal experience of a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, or a cousin.”
 
Today, America indeed appears to be headed in the same direction. For the first time in history, the United States population is below replacement rate. In an interview on PBS News Hour, Economist Todd Buchholz, author of Siblings “The Price of Prosperity,” stated bluntly why wealthy nations like the U.S. endanger their future by having too few children: “You need somebody to support the retirees. You need to pay into the pension plans. You need people to work at the hospitals, at the nursing homes.”
 
At the local level, a family of many siblings may provide an optimal training ground
for life. The Catholic Church teaches that children are a gift.
 
On their wedding day, Catholic couples are asked: “Will you accept children lovingly
from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?”
 
This precept is, of course, subject to interpretation. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.”
 
Pope Francis himself has counseled prudence in discerning family size, and the Church has become a champion of Natural Family Planning as a way to morally space pregnancies.
 
But, not infrequently, adopting an attitude of “generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” often leads voluntarily to larger-than-average family size, as parents discover that negative stereotypes about large families are untrue and fears about depriving children of material goods are exaggerated.
 
Patrick and Stacey Guinee, parishioners of Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction, are one such family, with nine children, ages 1-14. Both come from large families, something they say has influenced their desire to have many children. As adults, their siblings “...bless us as we grow as a couple. (They) continue to challenge us as adults and remind us of our roots, of our faithful parents and of our mission to raise strong, faith-filled children in our holy little church,” Stacey said. “As I reflect on my own relationships with (our siblings), I see the future laid out before me, and I desperately want my children to develop lifelong friendships with their siblings like ours.  The support and love that come from shared history and faith make life more enjoyable.”
 
Jenn Smith of St. Mark Parish in Burlington, who with her husband, Bill, has five children ages 2-11, and is expecting her sixth, agreed. “Having a big family made me realize how much I missed growing up as an only child.” She said her children, “...experience childhood with the all the joys of having babies and younger siblings growing with them.  It gives them a bigger picture with different ways of looking at things instead of just their own outlook.”
 
Mary and Paul Niekrewicz of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Williston, parents of six children ages 5-18, said they view their home as a earning ground to prepare children, “…for the spectrum of life through the immediate needs of how to resolve a conflict over who gets to take a turn riding in the middle row seats of the family minivan, to growing fruitfully into faithful, independent adults. Above all, they learn how to love one another unconditionally just like Jesus loves them. Family life gives them a daily opportunity to meet Jesus in each other.”
 
The Catholic attitude of “welcome” to the gift of new life may be key to why families have found joy in choosing the countercultural and sometimes challenging path of parenting many children.
 
My own experience as one of eight siblings and the mother of five children bears this out. Today, more than ever, I appreciate the gift my parents gave me by “accepting children lovingly from God.” I’m sure it wasn’t always easy for them, and I won’t pretend that life in a large family wasn’t often messy and loud and complicated.
 
When my mother was widowed at age 46, with five young children to raise, it was her Catholic faith that sustained her. Despite the hardships of those years, my mother always had an optimistic view, and before she died at age 90, she remarked many times how grateful she was that God had blessed her with children and grandchildren.
 
As I have grown older, I have discovered the joy of having a group of people who share my history, mourn my losses and have my back like no one else ever could. I hope my own children will come to experience this gift in the same way. Comparing the considerable effort of raising a large family to the lifelong treasure of having siblings, I can only say to my parents, from the bottom of my heart, “thank you.”
 
 By Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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