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‘To grow in love for him'

June 23, 2021

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 – Though she’s lost her sight almost completely, Shirley Kenney hasn’t lost her faith or her desire to help others.

Kenney, 85, is a parishioner of St. Peter’s Parish in Massena.

“I was brought up with faith,” Kenney said. “My mother married a non-Catholic. Boy, she made sure we knew which faith we were supposed to follow.”

In addition to regularly praying the rosary as a family, Kenney said her mother sent her and most of her five siblings to Catholic school.

“I went from Catholic school to the Catholic school for nursing in Watertown – Mercy Hospital,” Kenney said. “I’ve been educated by Catholic teachers all along.”

Kenney said her faith drove many of the decisions in her life, including who she would marry.

“I was very strong for my faith all the time,” she said. “I went out with a couple boys who were not Catholic. It even got to the point of talking about marriage. They weren’t interested in promising to raise any kids we’d have Catholic, so that was the end of that.”

Then, one snowy Valentine’s Day during nursing school, she met the Catholic man she’d later marry.

“There was a Valentine’s Day dance at school,” Kenney said. “Ross was one of the local boys who came for the dance. Because there was a snowstorm, there were hardly any boys there – maybe five or six. They made the rounds dancing with all the nursing students. Ross danced with one student, then he came and asked me to dance. Then he danced with another student, and he came and asked me to dance again. We ended up just dancing with each other. We started dating, and a year and a half after that, we got married. He was a good Catholic. He was brought up Catholic, and he was an altar boy and all that stuff. He was friends with the priest.”

Kenney worked as a private-duty nurse early in the couple’s marriage. Once their fifth child (of six) was born, Kenney became a stay-at-home mother. It was one of those children that gave Kenney one of the biggest trials of her life.

Kenney said her son, Mike, moved to the west coast more than 30 years ago. Initially, Mike remained in contact with his parents despite the distance. Eventually, though, letters to Mike started coming back undeliverable.

“I haven’t heard from my son, Mike, in 30 some years,” she said. “I’ve been praying about that ever since. That’s all you can do is keep praying. You know you’re going to find out what happened sooner or later. Even if you have to be in heaven to find out, you will.”

When her husband, Ross, retired from his career in the aluminum industry, the couple attended Mass together daily.

“While Ross and I were both healthy enough, we went up to Sacred Heart Church for noon Mass every day,” Kenney said. “That was wonderful for me. After he died, I reached a point where I couldn’t walk very far. I was in my 80s by then. I had to quit going. I’m not an early riser. I can’t make myself get up early enough to go to the 8:15. Now, I say my rosary every day. And I have all these prayer cards, and I say the prayers on them every day.”

One of the prayer cards, a particular favorite, is a prayer to St. Jude.

Oh holy St. Jude, apostle and martyr, great in virtue and rich in miracles, near kinsman of Jesus Christ, faithful intercessor of all who invoke your special patronage in time of need. To you I have recourse from the depth of my heart and humbly beg to whom God has given such great power to come to my assistance. Help me in my present urgent petition, in return I promise to make your name know and cause you to be invoked.

“All you can do is hope and believe,” Kenney said. “Even St. Jude has to go by God’s plan. If I don’t get the healing I’m asking for, it’s not his fault. He’s praying for me.”

In more recent years, Kenney has been facing additional hardships. Glaucoma and other optical issues have largely robbed her of her sight. Despite the challenges that poses, she has continued with a giving ministry – repairing and improving dolls to donate for the annual Christmas toy drive in her parish community.

“My husband was the toy drive manager for the (Knights of Columbus),” she said. “That got us thinking about toy drives. One time, somebody gave (the Kenney family) an entire toy box of toys for the toy drive. We brought it home. The toys were all dumped in there any old way. Parts to games were all mixed with toys and crayons. Our kids had the best time sorting it all out and putting all the pieces with the games for the toy drive. I thought, ‘that was pretty darned good. I could do stuff like that.’ I started to go to garage sales, and I’d see old dolls. I started buying dolls. I’d bring them home, clean them up and get clothes on them. That first year, I did ten to 12 dolls.”

Soon, though, she earned a reputation as “the doll lady,” and people began donating or saving dolls for her. Now, years later, Kenney still spends free time crocheting doll bonnets and shoes, sewing felt booties and repairing dolls to donate to the toy drive.

Kenney said repairing the dolls helps her fill her time and allows her to show love to others. She said showing love to others is almost as important as growing in love of God.

“That’s what we’re here for,” she said. “It’s what God made us for – to grow in love for him.”

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