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‘Her unshakable faith’

An octogenarian witnesses to the Real Presence

(Courtesy photo/Mary Kaineg)



Mary Kaineg

Senior Life


Helen, an 87-year-old parishioner of St. Mark’s parish in Boise, loves her Catholic faith. A faithful attendee at Sunday Mass for all her life, she felt keenly the loss of the Eucharist when health issues made it impossible for her to continue participating in Sunday liturgy. A nextdoor neighbor first mentioned to Helen that perhaps there was someone at the parish who could bring her the Eucharist.


With tears in her eyes, Helen explained to this writer, “I can accept not being able to go to church, but I can’t imagine not receiving Jesus in Communion.”


Since that early chat with her neighbor, Helen is now being visited by an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist every Sunday. She often expresses heartfelt gratitude to the visitor for this service, but as one of those privileged to bring the Eucharist to her, I am the one who is greatly blessed.


Although this senior Catholic is “housebound,” she never complains about her situation. In frank discussions with her, it is evident that a joyful heart is part of her identity. She attributes her resilience and strong faith to both of her parents, midwestern Catholics who were forced to leave their Kansas home because of health issues caused by the dust storms of the 1930s. “When Dad got a job working for a dairy farmer in Fruitland, Idaho, the family found a new home 20 miles away, in Vale, Oregon,” Helen explained. With a mischievous grin, she added, “I was born in the kitchen behind the wood stove.”


Helen married an Air Force pilot and spent many years following her husband to various military bases. Together, they raised seven children. About three years ago, her husband of 63 years died from cancer. Helen has given up driving because of her dependence on oxygen and her need to be “tethered” to her home.

Still, her sense of humor remains.


Invariably, as I enter her home on my weekly visit, I am greeted with a genuine smile of welcome and a quick-witted response to my “How are you today?” With a twinkle in her eye, she might quote Mae West, repeating that famous phrase, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” Since we are both “older citizens,” we laugh together at the wisdom of that expression! It is this quick wit that makes Helen such a delight to visit.


All laughter aside, Helen takes her faith and her belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist very seriously. Her simple sincerity as she prepares to receive Holy Communion is a lesson that could be taught to First Communicants. Her faith in Jesus and His Love is so strong it can be felt.


Helen listens carefully as we say the familiar prayers and read the Scriptures. Sometimes, I share a summary of the homily I heard at Mass. Sometimes, there is a printed reflection to read. With the aid of a “smartphone,” a hymn may be played during the liturgy. Once the pyx containing the Body of Christ is set on the table with the lighted candle, a sense of quiet reverence pervades our space in Helen’s living room.


As I open the pyx to offer Helen the Body of Christ, she closes her eyes and extends both hands, anxious and ready to receive Holy Communion. Occasionally, a tear is shed while she says a silent prayer of thanks.


As I prepare to leave, I realize my faith has once again been strengthened by the powerful witness of the deeply felt spirituality of this Catholic senior, living out her unshakable faith, aided by the service of her parish outreach ministry.


If you feel called to become part of a parish outreach ministry team, contact your parish office. If you do, be prepared for blessings to abound!


If you know a senior whose witness to the faith needs to be told, please send an email with your story idea to editor@rcdb.org. The Senior Life column is written by Mary Kaineg from St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Boise.


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Diocesan Pastoral Center

FAX: (208) 342-0224

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