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‘God helps me get back up and keep going’

May 13, 2020

Editor’s note: This 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 Jonathan Monfiletto
Contributing Writer

CLAYTON – Sandy Geiss says her faith has gotten her through many tough times in her life.

A little over a year ago, Geiss’ husband died of a heart attack while out riding his bicycle. The couple had been married for 48 years. About halfway through their marriage, Geiss’ husband was hit by a car while he was riding his bicycle, rendering him a paraplegic with numerous health issues the rest of his life.

Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, Geiss is feeling “a little more lonely” without her husband, as she isolates at home while making occasional trips to the store and to doctor’s appointments. Meanwhile, her son is in self-quarantine after being exposed to somebody who tested positive for coronavirus.

“For my whole life, I’ve had different things that my faith has helped me to get through,” Geiss said. “That’s honestly what I feel most about my faith, is that it’s gotten me through some really tough times as well as led to the creation of some very wonderful friendships as well.”

Geiss’ faith is sustaining her now, as she attends Mass online through her oldest son’s church in Bethesda, Maryland, watching the service on YouTube and viewing the listings of readings and songs on Facebook. She also had the opportunity recently to see her grandchildren for the first time in two months during a socially distanced family get-together.

Geiss’ faith is also helping her to reach out and minister to others in need during this time. As a lay minister for her church, St. Mary’s Church in Clayton, she has been contacting about 50 to 60 people to see how they are doing and if they need help.

“Checking in with people, trying to be sympathetic with people, seeing if they need help with things,” Geiss said.

On her contact list is a friend who is disabled and trapped in Florida. The friend traveled to Florida aboard Amtrak’s Auto Train, in which passengers ride in the train that carries their personal car, but the friend will not be able to return to the North Country by that method.

Instead, Geiss and a couple of her fellow parishioners will pick their friend up at the Syracuse airport. The woman’s car will remain in Florida, so Geiss and others will drive their friend to the pharmacy, the grocery store and Mass when it resumes.

Geiss serves on the board of the Paynter Senior Citizens Center in Clayton and said that group is trying to keep in touch with its senior citizens as well. Though all on-site activities have been canceled for now, there remains a bus service to the grocery store and food pantry and other stops.

This sense of faith in action is not new for Geiss. She was commissioned as a lay minister in 2017, out of a class of 10 people who have stayed in touch as close friends, “the kind of thing where we’d do anything for each other,” she said.

“Every single one of us has picked a unique ministry, and we have stayed with it,” she said. “We didn’t just feel like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this for two years.’ It’s kind of like a lifelong commitment.”

For Geiss, the ministry she chose was catechism, so she has taught Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and other adult education classes. In fact, she was in the middle of teaching a class during Lent on the parts of the Mass when the class was shut down after two of the five meetings.

She also serves as a Eucharistic minister, helps plan different social events for her church – including the St. Joseph’s brunch on March 15 that was one of the last social events in the county before isolation began – and coordinates volunteers to work at receptions after Mass in the summer.

Geiss also works at the food pantry that is located in St. Mary’s and overseen by a council of local churches.
“I’m really glad I became a lay minister. It’s really enriched my life in a lot of different ways,” she said.

Coming to the Catholic faith has enriched Geiss’ life as well. After her parents were killed in a car crash when she was 11, Geiss and her four sisters went to live with their grandparents. It “wasn’t the most idyllic upbringing,” Geiss said, as their grandparents didn’t want to raise the children but felt obligated to do. They did take the children to the Methodist church on Sundays.

“I kind of got to liking church even back in those times,” Geiss said. “It was kind of an escape from home to go to youth group meetings and choir practice and whatever.”

By the time she met her Catholic husband while attending Syracuse University, Geiss had fallen away from her faith in her college years, so they decided to get married in the Catholic church and raise their children Catholic.
However, it wasn’t until her middle son made his First Communion in 1987 that Geiss decided to take RCIA classes and officially become Catholic after years of being involved in the faith with her family.

“I’ve been in love with it ever since,” Geiss said of the faith that has helped her form a relationship with God and relationships with her fellow believers.

It was that faith – and those relationships – that sustained Geiss through her husband’s death and still sustains her in its aftermath. While State Police tried to get a hold of her after her husband’s incident, they also tracked down people from her church to help locate her.

“When I got home, at that very first moment when my husband had passed, I pulled into my driveway and there were two of the deacons from our church,” Geiss said. “They were here from the very first second to support me. They came in the house. They stayed with me until my children came and just stayed with me right through the whole time.”

It was a tough time, Geiss said, and especially overwhelming to see her children and grandchildren deal with the loss of their father and grandfather, “so prayer certainly go me through those very rough first days.”

Reflecting on that tough time, putting aside some time for God every day, and praying for people suffering from coronavirus while thinking about her son in quarantine is a process Geiss uses to continue to sustain her.

“God helps me get back up and keep going,” she said. “You’ve just got to trust God. He’s going to get you through this. He got you through everything else.”

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