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steffensstarMany years ago, while a new reporter of the Dowagiac Daily News, I was excited to be able to cover Pope John Paul's visit to Michigan.

Archived Story

Marcia Steffens: Final goodbye is a gift from a friend

Published 10:02am Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I had actually won the lottery from our church, but I toted my camera and notepad and wrote a column and the photo was used on the front page.

Editor John Eby teased me that we would need an arrow to show where the man in the big hat was, as I was in the top row of seats at the oposite end.

On the bus trip I met a sister of the Holy Cross from Saint Mary’s College. She knew my brother, also a Holy Cross, and we talked on the trip to and back from Detroit.

She was very bubbly and excited, not only about the day, but about life.

We exchanged information and became friends.

She found out my daughter worked at the pet store in South Bend, so she would always stop and talk to her and ask about me.

Through the years which followed, I would be sure to hear from her at least once.
She never forgot my birthday. No matter if I didn’t receive any other greetings on my special day, which is so close to Christmas many people forget, she never did.

I should have known something was wrong when I didn’t get a card last year. But, I of course am too busy. Too busy to ask if she were ill. Too busy to bother to find out when her birthday was, so I could send her a card.

My brother told me he had heard she was very sick. Still I waited. Too long.

Saturday, Sister Kathryn Edward McDermott, C.S.C. died.

Time had run out – my time to return the love she had shown me for years by remembering me on my birthday.

I decided to make a final effort and attend her funeral Mass at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto on the Saint Mary’s campus.

It has been a while since I was there – in fact in a Catholic church at all.

I had forgotten this church’s beauty, set in a circle with a high dome ceiling with blue and gold mosaic.

There tucked under arches surrounding the seats, were rows of sisters – all under sweaters or afghans, sitting waiting for the service in their wheelchairs.

I knew without being told, Sister Kathryn had been a friend to many, just as she had drawn me into her circle, she had done so to many others, in the Holy Cross community and the world in general.

I was surprised when tears came to my eyes. I really didn’t know her all that well. Then I realized I was receiving her last gift.

There were moments of silence during the Mass. I had forgotten what it means to just sit and think and pray. How long has it been?

I guess I had become one of those people I had heard about in my youth – a fallen away Catholic.

But like Sister, I don’t think God has forgotten me, or given up on me.

A few weeks ago I picked up the book, “How to make friends and influence people.”

I read more than half of Dale Carnegie’s tips. The book may be old, but his ideas are still useful.

Sister Kathryn knew how to make friends, not only to the other sisters for whom she performed physical therapy, but with another she met along the way.

According to my brother, she was willing to drive sisters almost anywhere whether it be to shop or a trip for a home visit with their families. She often took the local sisters, who rarely got out, to lunch or on sightseeing trips to Lake Michigan.

She loved trips to the missions. When she was preparing to go to Bangladesh she used to cut out pictures of the sisters in each convent so that when she met them she could call them by name.

Connecting with each sister was important to her and she kept track of her new friends.
She even kept track of me. I wish I had kept better track of her.

Marcia Steffens, associate editor of the Niles Daily Star, and managing editor of the Cassopolis Vigilant and Edwardsburg Argus, can be reached at marcia.steffens@leaderpub.com

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