A Life Changing Visit
Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.
In February 2007, 18 months later, HIMSS, the Healthcare and Information Management Systems Organization held a conference in New Orleans. I attended for work to support a client who was demonstrating a solution I had sold to them. I was filled with pride to support New Orleans in their efforts to rebuild their economy and their city. I asked my husband to fly out there with me and stay the weekend to see the city.
The trip did not go quite as planned. There was still a lot of cleanup in New Orleans needing to be done. We walked around Jackson Square to find street lights still lying in the road as passersby stepped over them to cross. We read warnings and were advised by locals to stay within a few blocks, as there was still much crime outside of the main tourist areas. We headed out with optimism, eager to spend money with local business owners, and were greeted immediately by a street con man who swindled money from us.
Prior to leaving, a dear friend of mine had recommended, a “place I had to go while in New Orleans.” She wrote the name and address on a slip of paper which I tucked in my bag. I pulled it out our last day in New Orleans, and we decided to check it out. Leery after our earlier experiences, S.H. (sweet husband) decided we could walk, and we grabbed a local map and headed out.
As we walked along the roads, we passed the Convention Center and the industrial district. I don’t remember exactly how many miles we had to go, but it sure seemed like we were walking for a long time. I inquired again as to if we should just take a cab. No, S.H. was sure the destination was not that much further, and suggested a short cut. The short cut took us through a residential area. As we walked down the street, we saw many open doors; I could feel eyes peering at us. I began to feel afraid, which reached its peak as we approached the end of street and it was a dead end! At this point, folks were starting to wander out of their homes to stare at the intruders. I was overwhelmed with fear as they gathered. It was clear that we didn’t belong here. We turned around to walk faster just as it began to rain, catching us with no umbrellas. Now I was frightened, my adrenaline was racing, and I was getting soaked. “I am getting back to the main road and getting a cab,” I said and began to walk so fast, I just might have been running. With adrenaline racing for both of us, it was about as far from a pleasant conversation as you can get. My mind was racing with thoughts such as, “How can you put us in danger, in order to save a few bucks? Who cares if the cab driver goes around the block? At least we would be safe!” I can only imagine what S.H.’s mind was thinking as I walked about 10 paces ahead of him.
Finally, we reached the main road and I hailed a taxi. S.H. wanted to go back to the hotel, but I was adamant that I was going to my destination. Even though we were barely able to speak to each other, we hopped into a cab, and I gave the cabbie the address.
For about 15 minutes, we had a tense, silent ride as I calmed myself down. Then it became apparent we were driving around in circles, passing the same locations and going through more residential districts that didn’t look anything like what we were expecting. Finally, after the third pass of the same place, the cabbie came to a stop and said, “Here’s your address.” We got out, and it was clear this was not our destination.
Honestly, I don’t remember how we made it to the Seelos Center. I think it involved more walking, which is why I have probably blocked it from my memory. When we arrived, the doors were locked. We had come all this way, and it was closed for the day! Unbelievable! I looked up toward heaven and said, “Really God, really?” Just then, the gate opened and a lady with purse in hand, clearly ready to leave for the evening, asked, “May I help you?”
“We wanted to visit the shrine to Blessed Father Seelos,” I stated. “We are closed for the evening, can you come back tomorrow?” “Our plane leaves tomorrow for Arizona,” I said. She paused for a moment as if she was considering any other options. “Okay, come in, I will stay a little late and let you visit.”
Our guide took us into the church and explained that she was the assistant to the pastor. She began to give us a tour of the building. As it turned out, she took us into the church, which, had we been there when it was actually open, would not have been available to visit, as construction workers were present repairing damage from Katrina.
If you don’t know the story of Blessed Father Seelos, visit the web site at http://www.seelos.org/ An amazing man, Father Seelos is most known today for the many healing miracles credited to his intervention. You can purchase relics at the Seelos Center for those who are ill and in need of healing. He was also known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, with folks lining up for the sacrament of reconciliation. The web site tells us Father Seelos’ constant endeavor was instructing the little children in our faith. He not only favored this ministry, he held it as fundamental for the growth of the Christian community in the parish.
Of course, as we walked in, we knew none of this. Since it was after hours, our guide led us through the church and told us about her own healing miracle. Her daughter, born and pronounced severely mentally challenged, blind, deaf and dumb, not expected to live through her first year. Her daughter, when we were there, was a young woman in her twenties, not blind, deaf or dumb and, although still challenged, a functioning beautiful young lady. Her passion and faith were evident as she patiently took us through the church. She left us at the shrine, where people come from all over to pray for their intentions. Although her day was over and she was eager to return to her family, she graciously offered, “Take as much time as you need.”
Don and I silently offered our prayers. My mind wandered to my daughter and to my grandchildren. A single mother, she has done an amazing job supporting her children. I prayed for her and my grandchildren to find their way back to their Catholic faith. Desperate for my daughter and grandchildren to have the peace of Christ, I bargained with God. “Father, please bring my children back to their faith and, when I get home, I will get Children’s Liturgy started in our parish.” I have no idea where this thought came from, but I was suddenly passionate about the children. “Father, take care of mine, and I will help take care of yours,” I bargained. I wrote my intentions for my daughter on a slip of paper and left it in the box provided.
The return home was almost as eventful as the trip to the shrine. However, we made it safe and sound. I later discovered that my husband’s intentions, although we had not discussed or even been prepared for, were the same as mine. The next morning we boarded the plane to return to Phoenix. As our plane landed, I received a phone call from my daughter. “Mom, I am thinking of going back to church,” she stated. “I was driving by St Patrick’s and I stopped in and talked to someone. I signed the kids and I up for classes and I want to go back to church. The reason I liked St Patrick’s was because they offered Children’s Liturgy of the Word at all the Masses and they seem so welcoming to children. My kids need that since they really haven’t grown up going to church.”
Wow, talk about an immediate answer. Thank you, Blessed Father Seelos!
As I had promised, I called our Director of Faith Formation and inquired, “What would it take to get Children’s Liturgy started at our parish?” Her response was, “I am all ready to go, I found a great assistant who can help with lesson plans, I have the materials, would love to launch it.” “What is stopping you from moving forward?” “ I need volunteers,“ she said. Volunteers! That is all that’s needed?” “Consider it done,” I said. “Tell me how many you want, and let’s set a date for the training class and launch.” And we did just that.
Looking back now, five years later, what an amazing chain of events that all came together. Only our God could have known how our parish in Arizona was in need of the intervention of Blessed Father Seelos. I didn’t know until this writing of his passion for teaching children our faith! “God you amaze me every day. I am humbled and honored to follow wherever you lead.”
Are you in need of a miracle?…Believe.