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'A Feeling of home'

November 18, 2020

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Darcy Fargo

CLAYTON – Though she worshipped for a time with another denomination, the Catholic Church has always been home for Maureen O’Connor.

“I was raised Catholic,” said O’Connor, a parishioner of St. Mary’s in Clayton. “There are a lot of nuns and priests on both sides of my family. My father was in the air force. We were Air Force brats, and we moved around a lot. Wherever we could, mom put us in Catholic school. That was really only fourth and fifth grade, and junior and senior year. We were a very active Catholic family.”

Despite that Catholic upbringing, O’Connor was married in an Episcopal church, and she and her children attended services with that denomination when her kids were quite young.

“To get married in the Catholic Church, I had to say I would raise the kids Catholic,” she noted. “My husband didn’t care for that at all. We did the Episcopal thing for a while.

When we moved back here to the North Country, I went back to my Catholic faith. I taught catechism for a while. Then I left again and went to an Episcopal church, so we could all go to church as a family. We had a wonderful pastor. She was very kid friendly. I did eventually go back to the Catholic Church with the kids. I figured since I was the driving force of th3e religious aspect of our lives, I was going home. The kids had been baptized in the Episcopalian Church, and then they did First Communion and confirmation in the Catholic Church.

The kids participated in the Mystery Plays.”

O’Connor said returning to the Catholic faith gave her a “feeling of going home and comfort,” but it also made her realize she wanted to grow deeper in her faith.

“I had a lot of questions,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about it.”

That desire to grow in her knowledge of the faith led O’Connor to the Formation for Ministry program.

“I did that to learn more about the basics of the Church,” she said. “I was raised Catholic, but I didn’t know why we did a lot of the things we do or the history behind it. I knew I could learn more in the Formation for Ministry program.”

The program also appealed to her because her work in medical imaging helped foster her desire to serve others, and she knew the program would equip her to serve in new ways.

“I did ultrasounds – pregnancy ultrasounds – and mammograms,” O’Connor explained. “I had quite a variety of patients, and I met so many nice people. I had them for either 15 minutes or an hour and a half. It made me realize I wanted to serve, especially the elderly. I have quite a passion for it. A lot of women came in wanting to visit, needing some social time. Even during a quick mammogram, it’s amazing how much people will talk if someone is willing to listen. A lot of these patients had no families. Some had to take taxis to their appointments because they didn’t have vehicles. It made me much more aware that there are a lot of elderly people who are alone.”

That experience and knowledge led her to her chosen ministry – visiting the home-bound and ill and delivering the Eucharist.

“Getting to know the shut-ins or the people who can’t get out and go to Mass after surgery means a lot to me,” she said.

O’Connor said her ministry has been complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but she said her parish community has worked to adapt to the needs and is still reaching out.

“I couldn’t go to homes for quite a while,” she said. “So, we did phone calls. Father (Arthur J.) LaBaff printed out a list of everyone in the parish, and he had us, the lay ministers, divide up the list and call everyone, just to check in and see if anyone needs anything. There were a lot of people worried they weren’t getting Communion or weren’t able to go to confession. We were able to explain to them what bishop was saying, the opportunities for online or televised Mass and just socialize with everyone. We’re trying to hold our community together, even when we’re not all able to be together. We did the calls once in March or April, and we just finished another round. Most people were extremely happy to hear from us.”

The Formation for Ministry program also helped O’Connor develop her prayer life.

“I remember in the classes with Sister Bethany (Fitzgerald, a Sister of St. Joseph), she always centered us back on God using nature; we usually used the view out the window,” O’Connor said. “I picked that up as a practice to center me and bring me closer to God. I do my best reflecting in nature, usually looking at a willow tree off my porch that is breathtakingly gorgeous or looking at the sunset, or any time I look at the clouds or sky or trees. Apparently, I talk about the beauty of trees a lot. Once, my grandson said to me, ‘you know, Mimi, trees are pretty, but they’re pretty every day. You don’t have to tell me.’”

O’Connor said she also learns and develops her faith by following the example of others, including the saints. She said seeing families of those killed in the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in 2015 forgiving the shooter and seeing how Mother Teresa treated the poorest and most disadvantaged taught her a lot about caring and forgiveness.

“The church shooting was one of my calls,” she said. “Seeing the families forgiving immediately blew my mind away. It still makes me cry. And Mother Teresa, I’m a big fan of hers. I met a lot of people in my line of work that were physically dirty or ill-kept. I was watching a documentary about Mother Teresa, and she said, ‘the worse they smell, the harder I hug them.’ That’s right. It’s silly to be judgmental about something like that. Those are the people that need us most.”

O’Connor has been able to follow their examples in her own life, through the grace of God.

“I had a husband of 37 years with infidelities,” she explained. “Forgiveness has been hard. But seeing people – in more than one instance – being devastated by a shooting or by a major wrong and being forgiving has helped me to be more forgiving. When you learn the meaning of forgiveness through people like that, people like mothers forgiving the person who killed their sons or daughters, it’s very deep. We believe in God and his forgiveness. He forgives us all the time. And people are actually doing it, too, and not being afraid to do it. All those people helped me be more forgiving.”

In addition to helping her forgive, O’Connor said her faith helps her find meaning in life.

“My faith is important to me,” she said. “Without it, it’s hard to find a lot of meaning in everything that we do and love. There’s more to it than just planting a seed to see a beautiful tree grow. It’s deeper than that. Our minds are too deep for this all to be an accident. We have to have faith in what we can’t see.”

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