From Sister Mary

Every morning I read a periodical called Give Us This Day that includes the daily scriptures and a “saint” of the day feature. I love reading about inspiring people and look forward to who will be highlighted. But when I opened the book one day and found “Mrs. Barrett” as the featured “saint,” I was puzzled. Never read about her, saw a statue to her, or recited, “Saint Mrs. Barrett, pray for me.”

Shame on me. Mrs. Barrett was named as one of the ordinary saints, that community of good people who do beautiful deeds each day and rarely get noticed. In this case she was mentioned by Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, as a woman who gave her “my first impulse toward Catholicism.” In an early memoir that Day wrote, she remembered going as a little girl to her friend Kathryn’s house and finding her friend’s mother, Mrs. Barrett, praying on her knees. That image imprinted itself on Dorothy’s mind as she made her way into faith and revolutionary gospel living.

It made me think of all the Mrs. Barretts that I know and often take for granted. Especially those that surround me at the soup kitchen—guests, volunteers, staff, donors.

So we are taking this issue of The Companion to look at all the “Mrs. Barretts” in our life, the ordinary people who inspire us to show up. To be there for others. To be there with those who weep. To be there to celebrate the good things. To be there for the children. To be there for the poor.

One of my Mrs. Barretts is a guy named Jerry Gorniak. For the past 20 years Jerry has walked into the office on the first week of the new year holding a paper bag stuffed with dollar bills. “Here’s your lunch money, Sister Mary,” is his usual greeting. This year it was almost $500. During the holiday season Jerry sells trees and makes decorative branches available. If a person wants a branch or two to decorate the house or the porch, Jerry gives them away, well…almost. What he does is encourage
customers to take a branch and make a donation to Emmaus. “I couldn’t believe how many people asked me this year where your lunch box was,” he told me, beaming like a Christmas tree bulb. Isn’t it something to still be beaming after 20 years of giving away Christmas branches to feed the hungry? And that’s what’s so inspiring—ordinary people like Jerry, people like you, keep showing up, smiling, and of good cheer. How can I do less?

Sister Mary Miller