Sept. 7, 2012 — A stranger & a student: A story of transformation, by Sister Jean Rosemarynoski

September 7, 2012 by

Let me share a story with you.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia offer “spring break alternatives” where college students spend their vacation in service to others. One year they helped repair homes for those in need and the elderly.

One project was to replace the kitchen floor for an older gentleman who lived by himself in the country. His wife had died 10 years earlier, and in his grief and loneliness he literally had not cleaned that house since her death. The filth was unimaginable; there were hundreds of dead mice throughout the house, even in the kitchen sink. We had to wear protective clothing and masks just to enter the house this man lived in everyday.

Mr. B’s loneliness was made worse by the fact that he had not heard from his two grown sons in years. Yet he kept spare beds in the house, as he said, “just in case…”

We had several different homes to repair so each night after prayer, students could sign up for what job they wanted the next day. Most students only worked at Mr. B’s one or two days. That was all they could take. But there was one staff member, Sister Anna Marie, out there day after day working beside them as they rotated through.

There was also one young woman named Libby who went to Mr. B’s house every day and never commented on it. Other students remarked about the filth or how sorry they felt for Mr. B. But Libby never said a word.

We knew something was going on with Libby but respected her space. Near the last evening, she finally shared at night prayer:

“I go to Mr. B’s every day because I am working through my anger at my dad. He is an alcoholic. Since I was a little girl I have dreamed of the day when I could leave home; I have rehearsed the scene in my mind.

“I am walking out the door with my suitcase. I stop and say, ‘Take a good look at me. That is the last time you will ever see. You are out of my life.’ I have played that in my mind many times.

“Then I see Mr. B. I see his loneliness, his depression, his grief. It makes me angry that his sons will not help him. It made me realize that I did not want to ever to do that to another human being — not even my dad.”

After Libby shared, all we could say was, “Wow. Such courage, such integrity.”

We were all deeply touched by her sharing.

Yet, there is an addendum to that story.

After the students had returned to college, one of us sisters continued to visit Mr. B. on occasion, and she noted that he continued to keep his house clean.

He died about a year after that spring break, and his sons returned home to tend to the estate. When Sister Anna Marie walked into the funeral home, the sons recognized her from a picture on their dad’s dresser. They told her about the photos of college students and letters from them that were taped on the walls and the mirrors in Mr. B’s home.

And they thanked her for what she and the students had done for their father.

It was a spring break filled with personal transformations that none of us could have planned. Mr. B.’s loneliness had a profound effect on Libby and influenced her own relationship with her dad. Mr. B. lived out the last year of his life with a joy nurtured by the memories, pictures and letters from the students. And the attention that Libby and the other students gave their father moved Mr. B.’s sons deeply.

The focus of the Year of Peace message for September is to encourage us all to meet new people, to make connections in the community and to get involved. It can be something very simple like welcoming a new person to our church or neighborhood or volunteering with an organization whose cause we believe in.

As the story of Libby and Mr. B shows, we each have the power to make the world a better place — one person and one relationship at a time.

 

— Sister Jean Rosemarynoski is a member of the Leadership Council of the Sisters of St. Joseph and chairs the Concordia Year of Peace Committee. If you have ideas or suggestions for the committee or want to get involved with the Year of Peace, contact Sister Jean at 243-2149 or sisterjean@csjkansas.org, or any of the other committee members.

 

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