by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
I grew up hearing the story of how St. Martin de Porres miraculously brought my father back from the dead.
During the Korean conflict, my mother learned about Blessed Martin and began to pray for his sainthood as she invoked him to intercede for my father who was serving in the army.
When a letter came home saying my father was “missing in action and presumed dead,” my mother refused to believe the news.
Tear stains cover the grim letter.
But they are not my mother’s; they are my grandmother’s.
My mother held on to her faith in Blessed Martin’s intercession and insisted, despite everyone’s pitying glances, that my father was still alive.
Sure enough, when the war ended, my father’s name was on the list of POWs being released from Chinese prison camps.
Nine years later, when Blessed Martin was canonized by Pope John XXIII, I was only six years old.
But I remember the celebration at our house.
Because of that story, so often repeated by my mother, I took this saint business very seriously.
And so, when it came time for my confirmation, I earnestly believed whomever I chose as my patron would have a huge impact on my life.
I was determined to choose wisely.
While other girls in my confirmation class were pitching saint names they thought would sound pretty to add to their own, I was pouring over lives-of-the-saints books trying to find someone whose patronage I might need later in life.
When I read about St. Anne, and found that she was the patroness of “women in love and women in labor,” that epitaph burned into my heart.
I thought “Surely this is someone whose help I’ll need someday.”
I chose Anne as my confirmation saint, and none of my friends approved the selection.
The name was so plain and boring — why choose Anne when you could have an Anastasia or Bernadette or Philomena?
But I stuck with my decision. And I still remember the moment when the bishop touched my cheek and said the name “Anna,” for he pronounced it in the Latin form, and that sounded pretty to me — like a nod from God.
After that day, I often talked with St. Anne about my little problems and concerns growing up.
But when I reached my late 20s, and had not found the Catholic man of my dreams, I remembered one of the reasons I had chosen her in the first place, and I determined to seriously pray for her intercession.
I found a lovely novena to St. Anne and I began to say it every day along with daily Mass.
For one whole year, I went to Mass and said that prayer. I was as unshakable as my mother.
Then, in December 1986, I met a man named Jerry Esfeld who was a fellow parishioner at Holy Trinity in Lenexa.
He asked me out, and on our very first date, getting to know each other, we started talking about birthdays.
He told me he was born on July 26.
That’s the feast of St. Anne.
I went home that night and wrote to a dear friend who lived in New York at the time. I told her “I’m going to marry him.”
A year later, when she heard about my engagement to Jerry, she sent the letter back to me.
Jerry and I got married in the little stone chapel at Holy Trinity 32 years ago.
Our first child was a daughter and we named her Anna; and she is now the keeper of my St. Anne novena card, so worn out I had to encase it in plastic.
Happy birthday this week to my husband who is as good as gold; and happy feast day to St. Anne who brought him to me.