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'God is right there with me'

July 14, 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

SACKETS HARBOR – While her parents weren’t Catholic and didn’t attend any church, Anne Thomas’ faith grew from a seed planted by her father and a flower.

“We had the Bible read to us, but we didn’t go to church,” said Thomas, a parishioner of St. Andrew’s Church in Sacket’s Harbor. “Mother was Episcopalian. Dad’s family was Methodist, but my grandfather had some sort of falling out with the church, and dad didn’t like to go to church very much. We grew up in Shenango County, which is very rural. There was this little Congregational Church. As kids, we used to go whenever the mood struck us and participate in the kids’ stuff… My parents were moderately religious. I think they were people of faith. One of my earliest remembrances, I can never get it out of my head, I think was the seed or root of something. I was the next to the youngest of seven, and I loved to follow dad around the farm. My mom would say, ‘you have sons to be out there, why do you have to have my daughter out there?’ But I loved to be out there. I must’ve been about five or six years old. I was out helping – I probably wasn’t helping that much – dad fix fences down in the pasture, and I brought him a flower I picked. He stopped what he was doing and showed me the flower, showed me every part. He said, ‘who but a great God could create anything so perfect?’ That stuck in my mind forever. I think it’s the root of my faith.”

As she grew into an adult, Thomas said she tried several different denominations as she “searched for a church home.” It was when she attended nursing school near the New York City metro area when she was exposed to Catholicism.

“I wanted to be an airline hostess,” she said, smiling. “Back then, in order to be an airline hostess, you had to be a nurse. When I checked into it further, I learned there was also a size requirement to be an airline hostess. You had to be between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-5. I never made it to 5’2.” I figured, oh well. I might as well be a nurse.”

She attended a nursing school in Westchester County. She chose the school because it didn’t charge tuition. Nurses at the school trained while working in an affiliated hospital.

“Where I grew up, there were hardly any Catholics,” Thomas said. “We used to laugh about it. When we had release time, there was a Protestant teacher – non-denominational – who would come in and teach us religion. There were a couple Catholic kids who had to go down to the boiler room for instruction. I had next to no contact with Catholics. Being outside New York City in nursing school, a lot of my classmates were Catholic. I started going to Mass with them every now and then. It was intriguing. It was all in Latin. I had no idea what was going on, but I just knew there was something there. I really can’t say what it was. I just felt that this was where I was going to feel comfortable. I started taking instruction to become Catholic.”

Once she discovered her new faith, Thomas said she threw herself into it.

“I had searched it out, and I found where I was home,” she said. “Once I landed in the Catholic Church, I didn’t want to be just a social Catholic. I don’t think I had been in the Church very long when I started out teaching religious ed. I learned the most about my faith teaching it to kids. If I wasn’t working and I had time, I taught religious ed for years. When Father (Douglas G.) Comstock was here, I became the religious ed coordinator.”
Thomas was part of the first Formation for Ministry class, graduating in 1992, right around the time she took over the religious education program at her parish.

“I hadn’t chosen catechism as my main focus; I chose family,” she said. “I was able to go to some of the catechism workshops later. I had been working with kids, so I gave it a try. It worked out pretty good, if I do say so myself. I had a lot of fun.”

Thomas said she also grew in her relationship with the Lord through Madonna House, an apostolate “of Christian lay men, women, and priests, striving to incarnate the teachings of Jesus Christ by forming a community of love.” She was introduced to the community by Father William G. “Bill” Muench.

“Madonna House was a big part of the foundation of my faith,” she said. “When you go there, there are mirrors all over the place. Every mirror says, ‘I am third.’ God is first. You’re second. I am third. I really believe that, and I try to live it. I don’t always manage it perfectly, but that’s where I’m at.”

Now, at age 93, Thomas continues to nurture her faith by learning about it.

“I’m a secular Franciscan,” she said. “I have been for 30 years. I also read a lot. I do a lot of spiritual reading. I pray the rosary. It took me a long time to get into praying the rosary.”

That faith she’s worked with the Lord to grow has helped her through many difficult times, Thomas said.
“In 1969, our son, a senior in high school, took off and left a note,” she said. “He was heading out with one of his buddies. They didn’t know where they were going. He thought maybe California. I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where my kid was. There were drugs all over the place.”

Thomas found peace in the situation when she attended Mass, then being held in a gym after a fire at Sacred Heart in Watertown.

“I was sitting in the top tier of bleachers,” she said. “It was the responsorial Psalm. The 34th Psalm. I know it every time I hear it. ‘The Lord is close to the broken hearted, the crushed in spirit he saves.’ The tears were about to flow. It just grabbed me. It wasn’t the person who was reading. God was speaking to me.”
Thomas said her faith also helped her through other family difficulties, as well as through the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic and an injury she faced around the same time.

A little over a year ago, Thomas fell and broke her arm. After a prolonged period of attempting other means of healing, she underwent surgery on the arm.

“I had to learn it was ok to have people do things for me, and it was ok for me to not be in charge,” she said. “It was ok to be 92 and a half years old with a broken arm and just let it be. After I broke my arm, they transferred me to (a rehabilitation facility) to make sure I could handle things on my own before I went home. It was right after COVID started. Nobody could come to see me. It made me feel sorry for myself. It made me really aware of how terrible it is for people in nursing homes without family members there for them. Also when COVID hit, I was no longer able to go to church. It made me realize how very, very much I needed the Eucharist. People said I could watch it on television. I couldn’t get Communion on television. Besides, I don’t have a television. It was very, very hard. That was about the bottom for me. I don’t get depressed easily, but that really got to me.”

Now, Thomas is able to get to Mass and serve at Mass again, and she’s grateful to God for getting her through the recent hard times.

“My faith has taken me through every hard, difficult time in my life,” Thomas concluded. “It hasn’t taken them away, but it’s taken me through. My faith has shown me and proved to me that God is right there with me. I never have to be alone. I never have to be afraid.”

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