Thursday, September 5, 2013
"Just what a Catholic nun needs, another cross" I kiddingly said to Sister Rita Johnson, as I greeted her in the cafeteria.
Rita and I go back 18 years, she'd said a lot of prayers for me and my family, as she has for so many people at the hospital for 3 decades. She has encouraged, she has held hands, she has sat and cried, and she has done it all without judgement and without any expectations of rewards or recognition.
I guess the Pope got tired of waiting.
He bestowed on her the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, also known as the "Cross of Honour". It is given for distinguished service to the church and is the highest medal that can be awarded to the laity by the Papacy.
I could list all the good Rita has done, but perhaps it is better to attempt to explain what she means to me. I have a feeling there are thousands of people who feel the same.
I call Rita the "undercover nun" because she dresses in civilian clothes. But it's also because she is nothing like the good sisters who taught me in school in the 60s. They could be scary. I have a hard time ever imagining Rita that way.
Over and over and over she has "put people on her prayer list" for me, my kids, my wife, my brothers in law, my sister, my mother, my in-laws and more. I can't measure the power of her prayer support, but I have to believe she has God's ear. The power of her emotional support has been enormous.
She is a friend who understands that my quirky, sometime irreverent, jokes often mask my fear and worry. She would do anything for me and I for her.
When we expanded the emergency room a few years ago, I went to Dr Sidmen, our director, and asked if it would be OK if Rita came down and blessed the new area.
Rita brought some holly water from the Middle East, sprinkled a little around the rooms, sprinkled a little extra on me, and said a brief prayer, asking for blessings on those who would work these rooms and those who would be treated in them.
There was no press, no grand ceremony, just Rita, Dr Sidmen, Howard, our nurse manager, and myself.
She has made many, many more trips back to those rooms, often not under the best circumstances, to comfort patients and staff.
She is a rock.
She is an example of how we should live our lives.
Thank you Rita, it is an honor you would never seek, but that you richly deserve.