Thursday, July 23, 2015

Growing a Friendship

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Loretta is a woman fifteen years my senior, old enough to be a grandmother, though not mine. Always single, she spent her early adulthood as a member of Chicago’s Sisters of St Casmir. Formally released from vows she came to the Twin Cities in the early 1970’s. She became an Oblate of St Benedict’s Monastery in St Joseph, Minnesota in the late 1990’s.

My wife Ellie and I became Oblates of that same Monastery in 2004.

Our lives’ paths intersected.

We had seen Loretta at St Benedict’s, but had spent no time with her. She presented a talk about Christian Icons; neither of us spoke to her afterward.

The three of us attended the Monastic Institute of 2006. Loretta was the only familiar oblate that Ellie and I saw there; we gravitated to her. She engaged us. Lunch, dinner, breaks. Not all, but many. We enjoyed her.

After the Institute, Ellie and I spoke about it and about Loretta. “I would like to get together with her occasionally just to pray,” we said, virtually simultaneously. And we looked at each other as if, “Why didn’t you tell me?” … “Well I just did!”

Suffice to say that each of us quit the large and distant Oblate Group we were part of, and started our own group, adding another member and meeting monthly.

We saw Loretta beyond meetings; we’d pick her up for Mass, perhaps, and then eat someplace before taking her home. We’d usually go in for a cup of coffee and a cookie or some popcorn, or some ice cream. What friends do.

We marveled at who she is: Theology Master’s; voracious reader; lifelong provider of adult religious education. She absorbed training organically and integrated it. It seeps out her pores when she converses. Say anything about Church, she’ll provide insight … without proselytizing. Mention the Cathedral in St Paul, for example. She’d acknowledge it, speak about the pastor, and tell you that the architect was Emmanuel Masqueray. She would add, “Oh, and Emmanuel designed the Basilica of St Mary in downtown Minneapolis. We are so fortunate to have two churches designed by this world class architect within practically a stone’s throw of one another. They’re unique; the imprint of the architect is in the domes.” I admired how she integrated her learning. Were she male, I’d call her a Renaissance Man.

Our friendship deepened. We’d go to our meetings at St Benedict’s together. We’d usually go to weekend Mass together, and eat afterward. She knew of and introduced us to bohemian restaurants. Loretta taught us about attending summer parish festivals. We attended spiritual enrichment opportunities. In 2007 we joined a tour to Italy.

We were personally compatible, but each of us knew that our individual commitment to God and the development of our spirituality bonded us. That colored everything we did.

Cancer struck Loretta in 2011. We promised we’d be there, whatever, whenever. She had surgery. Some cancer remained. Her oncologist: “This is not curable.” So began chemo and radiation. Ellie took her; Loretta amazed everyone. None of the horrible treatment reactions was hers, not even nausea. Frequently, her first comment after treatment: “I’m starving!”

We hosted an open house for Loretta’s eightieth birthday that year. Eighty or so people came through our small home. Among the benefits: meeting many that Loretta had spoken so fondly of.

Loretta’s cancer slowly began winning; more pain, sleep, meds, less ability to manage. Ellie helped out, occasionally stayed overnight. In late December, 2014 Ellie moved in full time; Loretta enrolled in home hospice care in January.

Ellie and Loretta frequently attend daily Mass. We still go to weekend Mass, frequently stopping to eat. Even when hurting, which is usually, Loretta intends to live through the pain. We all know, live with, and do the best we can with that.

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