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Faith is 'part of what keeps me going'

July 29, 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

MASSENA – For Marilyn DeCelles, a parishioner of St. Peter’s Parish in Massena, faith is a critical part of her life.
“You’ve got to eat, and you’ve got to sleep,” she said. “For me, I also need my faith. It’s part of what keeps me going.”

DeCelles said she grew up in a household of faith. Her mother was part of a large Catholic family from Alexandria Bay, and her father was a convert to Catholicism.

“I’ve always been serious about my faith,” she said. “I can remember when I made my First Communion – what I looked like and what I felt that day.”

DeCelles said her family worshipped and celebrated their faith together.

“My father made his confirmation with me,” she noted.

DeCelles said she attended Holy Family School in Watertown from grades six to nine and Immaculate Heart Academy, now Immaculate Heart Central, for high school.

“I had good teachers – all nuns,” she said. “They helped me grow my faith.”

While she noted that she got into some mischief as a youth, she said God protected her and prevented her from danger.

“I’ve been totally blessed,” she said. “I didn’t get into any real trouble or danger, even though I was into some mischief. When I was 13, a girlfriend and I got a rowboat. We took turns rowing and swimming, and we swam out to Boldt Castle. This was before the shipping channel opened in the St. Lawrence, so there wasn’t all the commercial traffic, but we got picked up by the Coast Guard. They weren’t happy we were out there. Our parents weren’t happy, either. But, through the grace of God, we made it safely and didn’t get into too much trouble.”

DeCelles said the blessings continued into her adult life.

“I’ve had a charmed life,” she said. “I’ve been very blessed. I had a good marriage, a good family, good in-laws. I had a career I loved. God has been very good to me.”

DeCelles noted, though, that her faith helped her through the loss of her father and her husband.

“My dad died early,” she said. “He was only 56. My faith helped me through that. And when my husband died after 48 years of marriage, my faith helped me through that, too. I prayed a lot. I would go to the church and just sit. It was very calming. It made me feel at peace.”

Now retired after a long career at Massena Memoria Hospital, where she worked in accounting and medical records, DeCelles said she is blessed to be able to spend her time participating in the Diocese of Ogdensburg Vocations Society (DOVS), the Commissioned Lay Ministry program, Sacred Heart League and volunteering.

“I’m involved in a lot of things,” she said. “With the DOVS, Sacred Heart League and Commissioned Lay Ministry program, I spend a lot of time with other Catholics. I think it really helps support my faith. We all support each other. We pray with and for each other.”

DeCelles said her work with the AARP tax program and helping others file their taxes gives her an opportunity to share her faith with individuals who may not be Catholic or Christian.

“It’s one of my favorite things in life,” she said of the volunteer opportunity. “When you’re helping them with their taxes and financial documents, people tend to open up about their struggles and hardships. When people share their struggles with me, just saying ‘I’ll pray for you’ opens up a discussion. It gives me a chance to share my faith.”

DeCelles said praying for others has become an important part of how she can help others.

“I participated in the Alpha program in my parish,” DeCelles said, describing the program aimed at reaching the “unchurched.” “The second year of the program, Father Mark (Reilly) asked Sue LaCombe and I to be prayer warriors. With that, we’d go and eat with the participants, we’d watch the video and then we’d go to the church and pray for each participant individually and by name. We would sit with and eat with a different group each time. I really saw the Holy Spirit in business. Normally, I live on sticky notes. My memory is not great. But while eating with the groups, people would ask what we were doing, and we told them. Many of them would come up with some personal issue that they’d ask us to pray for – issues in the family, a kid trying to get into college, someone in an accident. I could remember every single one, and I don’t remember anything. I’d pray that they’d have a good experience and result from Alpha, and I’d pray for their personal intentions. It was so amazing that I could remember each person and their needs. It was three or four new ones each week, but by the end, I could still remember them all. Sometimes, they’d approach me weeks later and I’d hear that the prayers worked. It was definitely the Holy Spirit at work.”

DeCelles said she also fosters her faith by reading the “Word Among Us” reflections daily, as well as reflections from “Living Faith.” She said she also takes her intentions and requests to the Blessed Mother but does so in a unique way.

“I’m not sure I’m supposed to do this, but I change the Hail Mary to suit my needs and the needs of others,” she said. “I used to go to Daily Mass with a group, including my friend, Marie. After Mass, we’d go for coffee. We both liked trains, and it seemed like whenever we were having coffee, a train would go by. She’s been gone for five or six years now. Every time I hear a train, I say the Hail Mary, but instead of ‘pray for us sinners,’ I say, ‘pray for the soul of Marie.’ Other times, I say ‘pray for the soul of my husband.’”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, she also attended daily Mass and prayed the Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours prior to Mass.

“Thank goodness for the streaming of Mass now,” she said, noting she’s trying to stay as safe as possible and follow the pandemic restrictions by staying home. “It’s been very good. It’s like going to Mass, but not. Not having the Eucharist has been like a hole. It’s something I’m missing a lot. I miss it, but I was told to stay home, so I’m staying home.”

In more normal times, DeCelles said she also found profound moments of faith by attending retreats. She said one of the most memorable moments was praying in the life-sized Stations of the Cross at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte, Vermont.

“Because the Stations are life-sized, it makes it more real,” she said. “As you’re going through the stations, it’s very sad. It makes you want to cry. It’s just very powerful.”

As she moves forward in her journey of faith, DeCelles said her goal is to walk with others.

“I’m a helper,” she said. “I like to help people. I’m healthy, and I’ve never wanted for anything. I’m middle class, and I’m happy with what I have – even my old car that clinks and clunks. I see others who are less well off, and I feel like I need to help. I feel like that’s my mission.”

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