Wherever you go in New Mexico, you’ll find Spanish place names exalting God and things divine. The country’s oldest capital city, Santa Fe means Holy Faith. The Santa Cruz River is Spanish for Holy Cross River; the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Blood of Christ Mountains.
Photo by Marion Amberg
You’ll also find a litany of villages named for saints, including San Ysidro (Saint Isidore the Farmer), Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa of Avila), Santa Rosa (Saint Rose of Lima), and San Miguel (Saint Michael the Archangel). The town of Belén means Bethlehem.
Perhaps the most intriguing Spanish name of all was bestowed upon the yucca: Lampara de Dios (Lamp of God). When the yucca — New Mexico’s state flower — blooms in late spring and early summer, the white blossoms collectively resemble an old-fashioned lamp. Some say the plant’s sword-shaped leaves represent God’s Word (a two-edged sword), the white flowers his light unto our path.
Nobody ever dreams of finding love in a toothpick. After all, it’s barely a sliver of wood. But sometimes the simplest things in life teach the biggest lessons. The trouble is nobody knows how or when it will happen. I certainly didn’t.
For years I had ribbed Mother about her habit of leaving toothpicks on window sills in the living room. Whenever I pulled back the curtains, I found toothpicks waiting for anxious teeth. They waited anxiously at not just one window but at nearly every window. Some even waited on the baseboard. I hated Mother’s toothpicks, and her idiosyncrasy began picking away at me.
Until one day, and it goes without saying what happened.
How it happened is still a mystery. Was it my subconscious? Was I thinking about Mother when my toothpick found its way to the ledge of my window? I don’t know, but I gasped in disgust. I had broken my vow never to be like Mother.
Suddenly, a brother’s accusation that I laughed just like Mother was no longer humorous. “Not so,” I had chortled then. Now I knew it was true — my laughter is a cackle facsimile of Mother’s. Toothpicks and laughter. Anything else?
“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus tells us. And every Lent, tens of thousands of faithful do just that: They pick up their crosses and make the Good Friday pilgrimage on foot to El Santuario de Chimayo, a centuries-old adobe church in Chimayo, New Mexico. Some pilgrims walk from nearby villages. Pilgrims in Albuquerque begin their 100-mile journey on Palm Sunday in order to arrive on Good Friday. Wherever there’s a road — north, south, east, west — people start walking.
Like a giant Communion host, the paschal moon lights up the sky on Holy Thursday night, a lamp unto pilgrims’ feet beginning the thirty-mile journey from Santa Fe. Bundled up in coats and hats, the walkers are a microcosm of the Church in the American Southwest: Indians, Hispanics, and Anglos, all walking together on the road to Calvary. A few pilgrims carry life-sized wooden crosses, a heavy penance as the miles go by — miles filled with heartwarming stories of sacrifice and faith.
“Why are you making this pilgrimage?” a reporter asks an elderly woman, her walking stick covered with photos of family. “I’m praying with my feet, begging God to bring my kids and grandkids back to church,” she replies. “It’s in the journey — not the destination — that God hears us.”
Pilgrims getting a head start on the Good Friday walk. (Photo by author)
Walk. Walk. Walk. A steady stream of Rosaries are prayed in English and Spanish: “Our Father, Who art in heaven … Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo.” From a distance, the procession of flashlights looks like fireflies. Walk. Walk. Walk. As the hours pass, more Rosaries saturate the crisp air.
One penny alone isn’t much, but when millions of pennies are gathered together, the miraculous happens. That’s the “penny-nomenal” tale of Dr. Kate Newcomb and the World’s Biggest Penny in Woodruff, Wisconsin.
Dr. Kate and the World’s Largest Penny
The story begins in 1931 when Dr. Kate began practicing medicine in Wisconsin’s north woods. Her “clinic” spanned 300 square miles; house calls took her down dirt roads and across lakes in a canoe. When her car got stuck in the deep snow, she trekked by snowshoe to remote cabins to deliver one of more than 3,000 babies by the light of a kerosene lamp. Nothing could stop the “Angel on Snowshoes,” as she fondly came to be known.
In 1941 Dr. Kate opened her own clinic in Woodruff. Her hair graying and her step slowing, the 56-year-old country doctor also began dreaming of her own hospital. It was becoming increasingly more difficult for her to treat patients in hospitals hundreds of miles away. But where would the money come from? It was a hardscrabble life in these north woods.
The Good Lord had a plan — and what a plan it was!
It’s a traditional Nativity scene. Christ Child. Angels. Wise men. Shepherds and sheep. What isn’t so traditional is who made it: German POWs incarcerated at Algona, Iowa.
The story begins in 1944 when Sergeant Eduard Kaib was captured in France and shipped to Camp Algona, a base camp in north-central Iowa that housed 3,200 German POWs and oversaw 34 branch camps in Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas.
Suffering from war injuries, Kaib was also mired in depression. He missed deeply his homeland, family, and German Catholic religious traditions. One day, the radio operator had a divine idea.
“Sir, I’d like to build a Nativity,” Kaib petitioned Camp Commander Arthur T. Lobdell.
As published in the Fall issue of Celebrate Life Magazine (https://clmagazine.org/). All photos courtesy of Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home.
Mary Pat Jahner with her adopted daughter, Aubrey Rose Joy
On March 18, 2020, Fr. Joseph Christensen, three pregnant residents, and the staff of Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home in Warsaw, North Dakota, walked the grounds in Eucharistic Procession and prayed for protection from the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus. They then entered the old convent school and locked the door. Their sheltering in place had begun.
Heaven shielded not only them but St. Gianna’s own daughter, Gianna Emanuela Molla. An Italian, Gianna Emanuela, who was traveling in the US when the pandemic broke out, took refuge in the maternity home she had previously visited several times until she could safely return home to Milan in August.
This isn’t the first time St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922–1962) protected her daughter. Saving children—her own and others—is part of St. Gianna’s astounding legacy. When the Italian Catholic pediatrician was pregnant with Gianna Emanuela, doctors discovered she had a uterine tumor. “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate . . . save the baby,” Gianna heroically told them.1 She believed “the right of the child is equal to the right of the mother’s life.”2
Her baby, Gianna Emanuela, was born on April 21, 1962. St. Gianna died eight days later.
A speck on the map
Like St. Gianna, Mary Pat Jahner, the director of Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home, cherishes and wants to save babies. A North Dakota schoolteacher,
Searching for Truth and Wisdom? Take a stroll in Shullsburg, Wisconsin!
During the mid-1800s, Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, not only erected St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in this quaint, old lead-mining town, he also named the streets for godly virtues. For nearly 175 years, folks here have been walking down Faith, Peace, Pious, Justice, Goodness, and Friendship, not to mention Happy, Charity, and Mercy.
I’m an eagle eye for shiny pennies: I can spot them half a block away. I find so many pennies that I wrote a book about it (Penny Prayers: True Stories of Change — click the book tab above for details). But nothing tops my “penny-nomenal” find of a few weeks ago.
I was leaving a shopping center when I spied two pennies on the road in front of me. I looked in the rearview mirror: No cars behind me. I stopped my car, got out, and snatched up the pennies. Then I spotted some folded paper that cars had driven over. What’s this? Paper money! I swooped that up too. I turned around and saw another penny. Finders keepers.
When I got back to my car, I counted my loot: $63.03! “Cent-sational” — my biggest money find ever!
Found money isn’t mine, however. I donate my found money — coins and paper bills — to Pennies From Heaven (http://www.penniesfromheavenus.com), a ministry that feeds the world’s hungry with pennies and spare change. A few pennies for me is nothing, but in Africa they can buy 54 bananas. Imagine the mouths we could feed if we pooled together our pennies and loose change?
Now I’m dreaming of finding a $100 bill or two. Miracles happen! I’ll let you know when it does.
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