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Mom: a missionary disciple before anyone coined the term

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

I knew that The Leaven was a powerful communication tool and that our readers are of the highest spiritual caliber. Nevertheless, I was stunned that within 24 hours of mentioning in my column my mom’s desire to be with Jesus and the saints, she died, as she had hoped, peacefully in her sleep.

My mother was an incredibly energetic, hard-working woman for most of her life. However, in the last few years, due to the effects of old age, she slept quite a bit. When I asked her if she slept well, her usual reply was: “Sleeping is what I do best.”

My mother had a great devotion to St. Joseph. She sought his intercession for many things — among them, the gift of a happy death. She expressed a hope to die in her sleep.

Mom thought it would be amazing to go to sleep and wake up in God’s presence. She rolled her eyes when I suggested that with the amount of time she spent sleeping that the odds were in her favor. 

I remember as a child thinking that my mother was the most beautiful woman on the planet. I suspect that many children think this about their mothers. Her high school graduation and wedding photos only confirmed my bias about her physical beauty.

Gradually, through the years, I began to appreciate that my mother possessed a much more profound beauty. She was first and foremost a woman of great faith and heroic virtue.

Mom was a widow for almost 72 years. Her response to my father’s murder was a defining moment in her life. Marcella Wiest was one of my mother’s dearest  and most faithful friends.

In their 90s, Marcella would come regularly for a sleepover at Mom’s apartment. My father and Marcella’s husband played on the same semi-pro baseball team.

A few years ago, I thanked Marcella for being such a good friend to my mom. Marcella shared her great affection and admiration for Mom. After my father’s sudden death, Marcella confessed being fearful to contact my mother.

Marcella did not know what to say to my mom to comfort her. She appreciated the depth of her grief and was hesitant to expose herself to my mother’s pain.

When Marcella — despite her understandable anxiety — reached out to my mom, she was amazed at my mother’s serenity. Mom was not consumed with her own grief, but was interested in hearing about Marcella and her family. Marcella was not Catholic, but she admired my mother’s faith.

After my father’s death, Mom completed in only three years a bachelor’s degree in education. She had always wanted to be a teacher and felt that her work hours would coincide well with her sons’ school schedule.

How she was able to support our family on a Catholic elementary teacher’s salary was an economic miracle. She made many personal sacrifices so my brother Fred and I had everything we needed. I think Mom, given the opportunity, could have even balanced the federal government’s budget!

Though her classroom hours were the same as ours, she had more homework. She had papers to correct, lesson plans to prepare, dinner to cook, clothes to launder and a house to maintain. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to find Mom scrubbing and waxing the linoleum floors in our kitchen and hallway.

When the Sisters of St. Joseph could no longer staff our parish school, my mother was the pastor’s choice for the new principal. Mom was a natural leader. She enjoyed mentoring young teachers. Her own love for her students, her determined efforts to help young people develop their God-given talents and realize their full potential set the standard for the entire faculty.

More than anything else, Mom wanted to help her students fall in love with Jesus and his church. She loved the opportunity as an educator to impact the lives of children.

When my brother and I were in high school, Mom went to 5:30 a.m. Mass at a neighboring parish and came home to prepare a bacon and egg breakfast for us.

After getting us off to our respective schools, she attended 8 a.m. Mass with her students. She chose to go to daily Mass twice, because, during the school Mass, she had to be focused on the behavior and needs of her students. The earlier Mass allowed her to be completely focused on the miracle of the Eucharist. 

When my mother was a child, her parents were Christmas and Easter Catholics. Thanks to visits of the Legion of Mary, my grandparents enrolled Mom in the equivalent of the parish school of religion. She enjoyed learning about God and the Catholic faith. Her love for Jesus and the church was the catalyst eventually for my grandparents becoming very devout and active members of the parish.

My mother, as a young adult, was thrilled to be invited by our pastor to join the Legion of Mary. Mom was forever grateful for the difference the Legion of Mary had made in her own faith life. She loved the spirituality of the Legion of Mary with its balance of prayer and apostolic work.

She treasured the support and formation she received from the Legion for her own spiritual growth. Mom loved visiting with inactive Catholics and doing her best to listen to their struggles and concerns, while attempting to reconnect them to the sacramental life of the church.  Mom was doing missionary discipleship before anyone had coined the term.    

When I was a child and teenager, we prayed the family rosary every night. In recent years, I began praying the rosary with Mom every night over the phone. For the last three months with Mom at Villa St. Francis in Olathe, I was able to pray the rosary with her every day.

The night before she died, she prayed the rosary with great attention and devotion. During these months, the rosary was rarely not in her hand.

On Oct. 7, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The entire month of October is a special month during which the church encourages us to renew the practice of praying the daily rosary.

It is a prayer that children can pray as well as great intellects and mystics like St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa and St. Dominic. It is a prayer that can bring great comfort and consolation during sickness and old age.

Many people have asked what they can do to support me and honor my mother. Beginning, recommitting or persevering in praying the daily rosary would delight my mother. If you want to experience what made my mother both strong and joyful, then allow Mary to draw you close to Jesus through the rosary.

I give thanks to God for giving me such a beautiful mother. When her body was wearing out, she never lost a beauty that was much greater than physical appearance.

Mom had a beauty that radiates from the heart of someone who has experienced the love of Jesus and the friendship of his mother, Mary.

Next to Mary, I still think my Mom is the most beautiful woman!

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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