by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — It began with a headache.
Aubry Williams was 12 years old when she awoke with a severe headache, nausea and vomiting. It went on for a few days until her mother, Mary Franz, herself a physician, decided to check her for a streptococcus infection.
“As I was looking in her ears, I heard a voice say, ‘She has a brain tumor,’” said Franz, a member of Christ the King Parish in Topeka. “I thought to myself, ‘Mary, why are you jumping to conclusions?’”
Yet, the voice was unmistakable. Franz, who worked with her daughter’s physician, made an appointment for Aubry for the following day.
At first, the doctor thought Aubry had sinus trouble. When she suffered another day of the same symptoms, however, the doctor insisted on an MRI.
The MRI confirmed that Aubry was indeed suffering from a brain tumor, anaplastic ependymoma. This tumor is somewhat rare, with only about 200 cases in children diagnosed annually in the United States.
Doctors later told Franz that most children suffer for several weeks with symptoms before an MRI is ordered, but Aubry’s was done within a week. Franz credits the voice for convincing her to seek medical attention so quickly.
“It was the astute physician who listened to the voice and ordered that MRI,” Franz said. “Without it, I don’t believe we would have had the three years we had with Aubry.”
For those next three years, the family made endless trips to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., enduring countless doctors’ visits, surgeries, treatments and hospitalizations.
During that time, Franz attended a religious education workshop in Kansas City that featured a labyrinth.
“I made one for my religious education class, and Aubry got to walk through it,” Franz said.
The discussion soon turned to rosary gardens, which Aubry, always very spiritual, quickly grew passionate about.
“Aubry kept telling me how cool it would be if we had one at our church,” said Franz.
Aubry was 15 when she died of cancer on Oct. 6, 2009. Yet, her wish for a rosary garden lived on. Aubry’s Angels, a nonprofit organization begun before her death, dedicated itself to seeing Aubry’s dream become a reality.
With memorial monies (although not anywhere near enough) set aside for the rosary garden, other donations started coming in over time. Within just two years, Aubry’s Angels raised approximately $15,000 for the project.
On Oct. 6 of this year, a group of nearly 50, including parish pastor Father Pete O’Sullivan, Franz, her family and other members of Aubry’s Angels gathered on the parish grounds to break ground for the project.
After blessing the ground and praying for the project’s success, Father O’Sullivan said the timing of the groundbreaking ceremony was appropriate as it fell on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. After the ceremonial turning of the dirt, Franz thanked everyone for coming and led those gathered in praying a decade of the rosary.
When completed, the rosary garden will include plaques featuring the mysteries of the rosary, along with at least one statue of the Blessed Mother. Additionally, granite stones — the cost of which has been donated to the project — will serve as the rosary beads. The garden will include bricks for parishioners to add the names of loved ones who have died and benches where people can stop and pray in the quiet of the garden.
Adele Fugate, a member of Aubry’s Angels and a parishioner who is also a master gardener, said the garden has been designed to be as low maintenance as possible. Specific trees that will thrive in the soil have been donated. The garden will also eventually include a sprinkler system.
The first phase of the project — getting the rosary outline and path — will be completed around Thanksgiving, with the second phase of trees and a sprinkler system coming later.
“I have learned firsthand the power of prayer and [of] having a closeness with the Lord. And I have also learned how supportive the community can be,” Franz said.
The experience of working with others to make the rosary garden a reality has brought home the importance not only of community, but also of faith.
“I still pray for guidance on helping Aubry’s siblings deal with three years of stress, illness and loss,” she said. “I felt an intense closeness to the Blessed Mother. I have a keen appreciation for the pain she endured and the helplessness she must have felt standing at the cross.”
“As a mother you want to take all the suffering away,” Franz added. “But sometimes all you can do is offer it up to heaven.
“The suffering ends, but the love . . . the love never dies.”