Sunday, October 09, 2011

St. Connie

Last Saturday was the Feast of the Little Flower--St. Theresa. I don't often remember feast days of the saints, but this one was particularly special.

Freshman year of high school, I joined our parish CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). I hadn't attended the parish grade school, so I was a bit apprehensive about hanging out with a bunch of weird do-gooders I didn't know every Sunday night. But my mom had grown up in the parish, and wanted me to feel the same sense of community she had. In fact, many of her classmates' kids were members.

So I showed up--reluctantly--and was suprised by the mix of kids there. Preps in penny loafers sat alongside metalheads in Metallica shirts. It was overseen by a truly awesome priest, Fr. Groarke, who just "got" kids. (And no, there was nothing suspicious or weird about him, nor have there ever been any "complaints." He was just a truly awesome guy.) We did the usual youth group stuff--retreats, "lock-ins," service projects, the works--and the highlight was an annual weekend convention at the Valley Forge Sheraton. Picture a bunch of crazy Catholic kids running rampant from ballroom to ballroom...mildly chaperoned by guitar-wielding college students, the token "cool" priests, and mostly frazzled moms. Good times!

I made some great friends in the group--two in particular. Amy was a goofy artsy type a year ahead of me. We started walking to school together...much to the surprised delight of our moms, whom we found out had also walked together twenty years before, even meeting up at the same corner. Through her I met Chris, a sweet but terrifically sarcastic guy who shared my passion for music and theater. We wound up doing Summer Stage together, which pretty much bonds you for life. He was also EVERYONE'S prom date (his nice nature + tall stature being two key factors.)

The CYO kids generally bounced between Amy's house (where we would bake cookies and play on her dad's motorized chair that could zoom up the stairs) and Chris' (where we watched the very first season of "The Real World." I know, I was a huge hellraiser in high school.) Chris' saintly mom, Connie, always welcomed us with hugs, thoughtful questions, and the nicest compliments. She immediately made you feel like you were the only person in the room. "Oh, St. Connie," my mom would sigh whenever I raved about her. "She was always everyone's mom in the neighborhood when we were growing up. Looks like she's still at it."

After high school, everyone went their separate ways. But I would still see St. Connie at church and around the neighborhood. Every time, she would put her delicate hand on my shoulder and inquire about my life with a "Oh, hon..." And a few weeks after my wedding, she gave me the nicest compliment out of anyone. "That was such a neat wedding, hon," she said softly. "Exactly what a wedding SHOULD be. I've told so many people about it."

Every time I saw Connie, I immediately felt peaceful. She just exuded a quiet, lovely grace. It's not something you can learn or strive for. You just have it. She had it.

Two weeks ago, she lost her battle with cancer.

On Saturday, St. Philomena's was PACKED with people. Fr. Groarke returned to say the funeral Mass, and it was he that reminded us of the feast day. "Connie WAS our Little Flower," he reflected. "You are all here because of that little lady--that little flower that touched you in some way." As she was brought out of the church (to "How Can I Keep From Singing?"--a perfect choice), he led us all in a round of applause.

It was the most beautiful send-off for somebody who always led the applause for others.

Rest in Peace, Saint Connie.