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‘Get lost in the love of Jesus’


January 10, 2024

Editor’s note: The following is part of an occasional series highlighting individuals in our diocese who love Jesus in the Eucharist. To suggest someone to be featured in this series, email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Mary Beth Bracy, Consecrated virgin
Contributing Writer

Those who know Elizabeth Pietropaoli, a Malone native, often associate her with words like faith, family, friends and fun. After two decades of teaching theology and philosophy (most recently at McQuaid Jesuit), Pietropaoli returned to the North Country and resides in Potsdam.

As part of the series on the Holy Eucharist, Pietropaoli reflected upon how she came to love the Real Presence of our Lord and how He transformed her life.

“I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the Eucharist; I always wanted to receive Communion, and knew that it was the most significant part of Mass. I made my First Communion in my living room with my godfather (Father Albert Hauser) as the celebrant, and I remember feeling intense joy and love even now, decades later. My grandmother said that I turned to her during the Mass and said, ‘It’s Jesus, Memom! It’s really Jesus!’ So I think it was always-present for me, this love for Jesus in the Eucharist.”

Pietropaoli, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology from John Paul II Institute, related, “The Real Presence is never something I doubted. I fought – hard – against many aspects of Catholicism that I felt had betrayed me or were hypocritical, but the Real Presence was (thankfully!) a constant. Even when I was seeking comfort in witchcraft, the occult, and other darknesses, I still went to church and I still sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”

“I remember one particularly dark moment when I was 17 and living in the fallout of harassment and sexual assaults by the nephew of a close family friend. Because I worked with him and our family relationships put us in close proximity, his abuses continued for months, and really cast me into abject darkness and feelings of utter worthlessness and despair,” she recalled. “This summer of unsafety was accompanied by the potential ‘freedom’ of witchcraft, which seemed to offer a ‘place’ to a desperately lonely teenage girl who felt forever ‘outside’ the acceptable ways to be religious – especially in the North Country in the ‘90’s! The persistent pull of the knowledge gained through trafficking in spirits and intense interest in the demonic, demonic possession, ghosts, and hauntings offered me a voice and power in a time where I felt alone and totally unprotected.

“Despite the lure of evil, right after a particularly ugly encounter with the abusive boy, I left work and walked to my church (St. André Bessette in Malone) and sat in front of the tabernacle and just cried. And I was given solace in that moment, and to Jesus I have returned again and again and again. Sometimes in tears. Sometimes in anger and frustration. Sometimes in fear and doubt. But to Him, always, I return. For without Him, I am nothing.”

In fact, Pietropaoli’s personal relationship with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist inspired her to be involved in parish work and retreats for the last 20 years and share His love with others.

This was the fruit of some of her powerful prayer experiences.

“I have always loved Eucharistic Adoration, and must give credit to Mary Beth Bracy for really introducing me to this wonderful way of experiencing the deeply personal encounter with the forever-God,” Pietropaoli said. “At 15, I went to a conference in Rochester, New York, with my youth group – run by Linda Bracy in Plattsburgh, New York – and had a profound experience of Jesus in the Eucharist during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, very like on the day of my First Communion. And, at 18, at a Youth 2000 conference (again, with Mary Beth!) in the midst of issues with boys and the occult involvement, I felt so closely the presence and healing love of Jesus.”
The importance of daily Mass and time with our Lord were crucial in Pietropaoli’s life.

“Throughout college, which was also pain-hued and filled with darkness and despair and abusive relationships, I went to daily Mass at the Abbey Church at St. Anselm College and spent many hours before the tabernacle,” she said. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this deep awareness of the True Presence kept me alive during the worst moments of suffering and confusion; miraculously, no matter how awful I felt or how badly I was treated, I always knew that Jesus was there, in the Tabernacle, and I could, despite the failure of those around me, return to Him. Simply put, the awareness of Jesus in the Eucharist has propelled me forward when everything and everyone else says to give up or not take risks or give in to temptations.”

Pietropaoli, who is very happy to be “home” in the North Country, offered some thoughts about how to grow in devotion the Holy Eucharist.

“My advice to others would be to take time to get lost in the love of Jesus and allow it to reflect who you are and the person you were made to be,” she said. “It’s not going to look the same for everyone; our lived experiences, our scars, our attributes, and our talents are all so beautifully different! Give Jesus a chance to be part of your life and your loves. He wants a relationship with you, and He knows you and your heart. No matter what, you are not alone. You are not a mistake. You are not defective. Whatever has happened, or is happening now, Jesus is walking with you. Let Him hear your heart by spending time with him, even if it’s a struggle some days to pray – and some days it is.”

It isn’t surprising that Pietropaoli, who loves hosting meals, good conversations, playing music with friends, and Adirondack adventures, notes the importance of having friends in high places too.

“Find saints whose lives resonate with you,” she said. “The saints and the Eucharist are what kept me Catholic – and ask for their intercession. Men like Father Walter Ciszek, Father Emil Kapaun, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Ignatius Loyola, the North American Martyrs, and women like St. Edith Stein, Chiara Petrillo, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Kateri…. There are so many, and, astonishingly, sometimes their lives resemble our own messy experiences!”

One of Pietropaoli’s most remarkable qualities is her ability to communicate the truth, person to person, reflecting God’s love.

Drawing from her own experiences, Pietropaoli is able to walk with and inspire others on their faith journey.

“And it’s not going to be easy or safe,” Pietropaoli said. “Your life may look very, very different from the one you wanted or expected (mine certainly does) – but that doesn’t mean you’re not loved or precious or worthy or any of the other lies that you’re told. Trust Jesus with your story. Regardless of how different the journey may be from the one you wanted, it will be the right one for you. After all: ‘you are precious in my eyes and glorious…and I love you.’” (Isaiah 43:4)

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