Photo: Courtesy of Kellie Ross
A Fitting Farewell to an Apostle of Divine Mercy
By Kellie Ross (Dec 5, 2006)
It was a Saturday morning this past August, and our Divine Mercy ministry, The Missionaries of Our Lady of Mercy, from Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bristow, Va., was preparing our monthly "Feeding with Mercy" program to feed and give clothing to the homeless in Washington, D.C.
The personal care kits were being prepared, cookies were baking, and the house was bustling with people. The phone rang. "Can someone please answer that," I exclaimed as I was gathering clothing in the garage. A volunteer shouted, "It's Dolores. She's making zucchini bread and she's wondering if she sliced the pieces too thin..." I laughed out loud. That's my Dolores, I thought to myself. She's always thinking of the homeless and trying to be generous.
For those who never met Dolores, calling her a saint might seem an extreme form of flattery, but to be in her presence was to be near Jesus. She was 77 years old, but had the heart of an eight-year-old. She was completely simple in her nature and was never found to be without a smile or kind word. Her love of laughter and her ability to talk the back legs off a donkey endeared her to all who knew her — especially the homeless.
Just a few months earlier she joined our Feeding for Mercy ministry. She was recovering from cancer and had other health issues, but was determined to work for the Lord.
On our first trip to Washington, Dolores joined us. It was a beautiful day, but very cold. Dolores had told me a few days earlier that she was going to donate a winter coat from her late husband, George. When she first told me of the coat, I thought the sentiment was beautiful, but did not realize the gravity of her sacrifice.
She arrived at our house with the coat in hand. With tears in her eyes she said, "I really, really miss George. He loved this coat so much. When I would get lonely for him, I would put it on and wrap my arms around myself as if he were hugging me. It made me feel better."
She paused for a moment and said, "But I know George, and he would have wanted a homeless person to have it." I hugged Dolores and marveled at her love for her husband and for God.
On the way to Washington she was quiet (which was highly unusual for her). When I turned around to see if she was OK, she looked at me tenderly and at the coat and a tear ran down her cheek. "I am going to give this coat personally to the man who needs it the most."
God heard her prayers, for when we arrived at the park, there on a bench was a man sitting by himself, hunched over appearing to be praying. Dolores, with the faith and courage of Joan of Arc, walked up to him and seated herself next to him on the bench. Unloading the van of food, I could hear her telling the man about George and how he loved to help others. She talked and cried, and I looked over and I saw the man — who was wearing no more than two sweatshirts — kiss the coat and give Dolores a hug. Immediately I thought of the widow in the Bible who gave all that she had to God, and I realized in that moment that God wants all of us to do that — love without cost.
All of the way home Dolores beamed with joy. Her tears were now tears of joy and not sadness.
"He was the nicest man, you know," she said. She talked about the man all the way home and said how pleased she was that she had given him the gift.
That was several months earlier. Now, back to the day at hand. It was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Delores arrived around 9:15 a.m. with her zucchini bread in hand, wearing her Divine Mercy T-shirt and promising me that if I didn't touch the bread she'd make me a loaf for my birthday. I told her it was a deal.
The house was bustling with more than 35 people walking in and out, loading the vans with food and water. Volunteers and the homeless were waiting for us in the parks in D.C., and Dominos pizza had 130 pizzas ready to be picked up to take in that day. It all seemed perfect. Then, in one moment, the day fell tragic.
Before the ministry performs any work of mercy, prayer is offered for the works to be performed and for the homeless. Dolores was one of those people you could count on praying for the intentions the most. She had just finished praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy when a volunteer came to me and said, "Kellie, Dolores doesn't feel well. I am going to take her home."
Being a nurse, I tried to quickly triage what was wrong with her. As I grabbed her arm I felt her clamminess and knew it was serious. Then her speech began to slur and she cried, "I have never had such a bad headache." Believing her to be having a stroke, I called 911. Within minutes an ambulance arrived. By this time, volunteers had laid her down on my family room floor and we were frantically trying to get vital signs on her. She had a Rosary in one hand and a Legion of Mary prayer card in the other. Father Jack Fullen, who serves as our ministry's spiritual director, anointed her. Her final words to this world were a response to the question I asked her, "Dolores, are you with us?" She turned and looked at me and said, "Yes, I am." She fell unconscious and later died on the Feast of St. Dominic.
We went into the park that day, full of tears. The loss of Dolores was profound. What amazed me was the love of the homeless for this gentle woman. For those who knew her, tears flowed, and for those who did not, consolations were given. How ironic that the very people we were going in to comfort were comforting us. They were beautiful.
As I was walking through the park that day, I wanted to find the loneliest person in the park. I thought that perhaps by talking to him we could both offer supplications to God for mercy. I found him sitting by himself on a bench. He looked up at me and smiled, holding a miraculous medal and asking me what it meant. After I explained, he began to share his story with me.
A life of wealth, then poverty, then drugs. He showed me his Bible and asked for direction. I kissed the Bible, opened it, and told him to read Psalm 42 and Psalm 51.
He was crying, and with his head hung low, he muttered, "Why would God come to visit me today — in the park?" I answered, "God loved you so much that an elderly woman recovering from cancer got out of bed to see you this morning. She went to church for you this morning, and when she knelt down to pray, she prayed for you. Then she received Jesus in Holy Communion for you and came to my house. After praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, she laid down to die. But before she did she wanted me to give this ... to you."
Reaching into my bag, I pulled the last slice of Dolores' zucchini bread out and gave it to him. He smiled, kissed the bread, and gave me a hug. Interesting, I thought to myself, "Dolores is with us." Just as she told the man on the bench with George's coat. Just as she told me as she was dying. Love without cost. Praise be the Lamb.
Dolores Catherine Fortin, 12/3/28 - 8/8/06
Kellie Ross is director of operations of the House of Mercy, in Manassas, Va., a free clothing store for the homeless and needy. The store can be reached at 1-877-BE-MERCY.