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Praying with a full deck

Mary Lou and Ken Gudenkauf, members of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in north Topeka, exhibit just a select few of the hundreds of holy cards in their collection. The couple has cards dating back to at least 1912. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

by Marc and Julie Anderson

Holy cards.

They’re about the size of playing cards, and each one usually features a depiction of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary or a saint while the reverse side features a prayer, a poem or a Scripture passage.

With All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day fast approaching, three families shared their holy card collections and how they use them as tangible reminders to pray for their loved ones.


Monica Becker, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Corning, acquired her first holy card in 1999. That’s when her husband Royce lost his grandfather.

In 2013, a tornado destroyed the home she and her husband share with their children. The family lost nearly everything. Yet, some cherished possessions were “miraculously” saved, including the holy cards.

“I was in a daze, just picking up what I could, and I came across these,” Becker said, holding up a holy card from her grandfather’s funeral and another from her husband’s uncle’s funeral.

“When I picked them up,” she said,  “the first thing was like, ‘Oh, thank you for protecting us.”

Monica Becker, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Corning, sorts through her holy card collection. She began collecting holy cards in 1999 but her interest in them dates back to when she was just 10 or so years old. Her grandfather kept holy cards in his jacket pocket and would pull one out on his way to Mass each day. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

And then her heart sank, fearing that her other cards must have been lost to the storm.

It’s not that they have monetary value, Becker said, but they are priceless to her. The names and/or the photos printed on the cards represent family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors who have died, people who hold a special place in her heart.

The fact any of her holy cards were recovered after the tornado, Becker said, is somewhat of a mystery.

“We had a sofa table at the end of our dining room. There was a small drawer where they always sat. Our dining room table and the chairs were gone. Walls were gone. There was nothing,” Becker said.

Although most of her holy cards were eventually recovered, Becker said it was appropriate that the first one she found after the tornado was that of her grandfather. After all, he was the one who inspired her interest.

“He kept the stack of cards in his jacket,” she said, “and every day he and Grandma went to daily Mass at Sacred Heart [in Baileyville], and he’d pull one out, and that’s who they were praying for that day.

“Something about that stuck with me. Every single person [you meet] makes an impact on you, and that was his way of honoring them.”

Monica Becker looks through pictures of the destruction left by a tornado that destroyed her home in 2013. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Becker said she does not know how many cards her grandfather had, but recently her uncle shared photos of the more unique ones, such as one of Anna Skoch, a 13-year-old girl who passed away in 1915.

Inspired by her grandfather’s example, Becker uses her collection to pray for people.

“No one is living the perfect life. No one has lived the perfect life,” Becker said. “So, that is why you go to the rosary and you start it (praying) there, but you continue it because you want to help them to make right any wrongs.”


Like Becker, Dan and Roxie Ortiz, parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Topeka, use their holy cards for prayer.

Lovingly maintained in order within an album of clear plastic pages, each with several pockets on them, many of the holy cards depict, as might be expected, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other recurring images include the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Family.

Roxie and Dan Ortiz, members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Topeka, look over their holy card collection, recalling family members and friends. The couple views their holy cards as tangible reminders of individuals, but also as reminders to pray for those who have gone before them and to ask for their intercession and protection. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Looking through their collection, Roxie and Dan said, fills their hearts with gratitude for their family members and friends. 

But there’s one special card not contained within the album — that of their infant son Dominic Andrew, who died in 1991 just 20 weeks into Roxie’s pregnancy.

“I’ve always kept that card in a little box, the box with the cross the funeral home gave us at the time,” Roxie said, her eyes starting to fill with tears.

Although she keeps her son’s holy card at home, Roxie displays several (including that of her father) at her office. That way, she remembers to regularly pray for the souls in purgatory as well as their loved ones still on earth.

Besides her father’s card, another one she keeps at work is for the child of a cousin. On the front is an image of a guardian angel.

“I keep it at work,” she said. “It’s just a reminder that there’s other people who are hurting from the loss of a child.”

Roxie Ortiz points out one of the many holy cards she and her husband Dan have collected. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Dan agreed, saying because he and Roxie know firsthand the pain of losing a baby, he prays for the parents and families whenever he learns of a baby’s passing.

For the most part, though, the couple said their holy cards serve as reminders of the faith shared by their family and friends.


Growing up in Corning, Ken and Mary Lou Gudenkauf, members of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, both attended St. Patrick Grade School. The Benedictine Sisters who taught them often gave the students holy cards for holy days, such as Christmas, or as prizes for good grades.

“I grew up really poor,” Mary Lou said, “and they were just always               special to me, the beautiful holy cards.”

Mary Lou and Ken estimate they have hundreds of holy cards, so it’s hard to have any favorites, although they have some unusual ones.

One card, for example, memorializes Archbishop Edward Joseph Hunkeler, the archdiocese’s first archbishop. 

Among the holy cards in the Gudenkaufs’ collection is one dating back to the beginnings of the archdiocese. It’s a holy card from the erection of the archdiocese and the installation of Archbishop Edward Joseph Hunkeler, the first to serve as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. The card is dated Aug. 9, 1952. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Another one, given to Ken’s father Maurice in 1927, bore the simple inscription: “To Maurice, pray for me. Sister M. Priscilla.”

At the time, Maurice would have been 14 or 15.

Of their eclectic collection, Mary Lou said, “They do mean a lot to us, obviously, or we wouldn’t have saved them.”

But the devotion is more than a hobby. It’s a way of living their faith.

“Our Catholic faith,” said Mary Lou, “has always meant a lot to us.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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