by Marc and Julie Anderson
BASEHOR — It was his idea.
It was never hers.
Still, Gary Reed will be forever grateful for the gift of his Catholic faith — a gift he said he received through his late wife Debbie Reed, who passed away less than two weeks after he was brought into the church by Father Richard McDonald, pastor of Holy Angels Church here.
“It was my idea to join the church. It was never hers. I’m sure I was influenced by her, though,” Reed said of his late wife’s example.
“I saw what good it did her,” he added. “And that’s why I decided to [join the church].”
The couple’s story starts, though, decades ago.
The two met in seventh grade.
Off and on throughout junior high and high school, the pair dated. Immediately after high school graduation in 1972, Gary was drafted into the Army.
The two married, but their marriage didn’t last long.
“I didn’t know what I wanted,” Debbie explained in an interview with The Leaven last fall. “We got divorced because of me, not because of him.”
And even though the couple shared a daughter, for the next almost 50 years, the two only talked about four or five times.
Fast forward to June 2021, not quite 50 years later, when the couple met up again at their granddaughter’s high school graduation party.
The rest was history.
From almost that point on, they were inseparable. They ultimately remarried civilly, then had their marriage blessed in the Catholic Church on June 4, 2022, a month after what would have been their 50th anniversary.
In the time they spent apart, Debbie had gone to work for the church, employed first as a housekeeper by the RCIA instructor at Holy Angels, then for a few archdiocesan priests and staff members, including Father Richard McDonald. She eventually rose to be an assistant in the parish office.
But more importantly, she had joined the Catholic Church in 2015 — and she treasured her faith more than anything.
So, when Gary reappeared in her life, it was only natural that the love she felt for Jesus radiated from her.
The work — and her faith — Debbie explained, had changed her life.
“I don’t know that I do anything special,” she said, “except spend time with the Lord.
“I love my church family. To me, Holy Angels is my family. They have showed me how to love.”
And that same church family embraced Gary, too — so much so, that he also works at the parish, helping with cleaning and maintenance needs. The couple attended Mass and RCIA classes together, participated in eucharistic adoration and prayed the rosary.
On April 16, the day the church celebrates as Divine Mercy Sunday, Gary was baptized and brought into the Catholic faith. It was the one and only Mass at which the couple was able to receive the Eucharist together. It was a moment that Debbie — who had been diagnosed with cancer years ago — refused to miss.
Gary was not surprised. Debbie had been seriously ill for some time. But even as she was getting out of the hospital for yet another time, she made him a promise.
“’I’ll go even if I have to go in an ambulance,” she said. “I’m not going to miss it.’”
Despite feeling ill that day, she served as one of the lectors, something she routinely did at Sunday Mass. This year, the reading came from the First Letter of St. Peter and ends with the line: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Just 11 days later, Debbie died.
“I think she waited to pass away,” Gary said. “She wanted to see [me welcomed into the church].”
Now, on the solemnity of Corpus Christi, when the entire church celebrates the feast of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, Gary will join the Holy Angels congregation in receiving the Eucharist.
But he will never forget the one and only time — on the very day he joined the Catholic Church — when he was privileged to do so with his wife at her last Mass here on earth.