Getting ready for the train ride back home to Phoenix, from left to right are Joan Chavez, Carolee O'Meara, Nancy Morrissey, and Sue O'Neill.
The Journey and the Destination
By Felix Carroll (Sep 15, 2011)
They made the unusual decision to take the train from Phoenix, Ariz., heading to Stockbridge, Mass., to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Repeat: By train! Nearly six full days to and fro in the clackity-clack-clack pitching of a railroad car.
"I'll never do it again," says Sue O'Neill, eliciting laugher from her travel mates.
"Yes, we were in the cattle car," jokes Joan Chavez.
Not quite, but it sometimes felt that way. That's the price of having a one-track mind focused on a Shrine pilgrimage.
Before they left for home Thursday, Sept. 8, Joan, Sue, Joan's sister Carolee O'Meara, and Nancy Morrissey sat down with us for an interview here at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge. They spoke of their love for the message of The Divine Mercy as revealed by Jesus through St. Faustina; the power of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy; and their spiritual convictions cemented at the Shrine.
A train ride across country? Why the great effort to come to the Shrine?
Carolee: Well, we wanted to take the train because it just seemed right, and Nancy hadn't ever traveled by train. As for why we wanted to come to the Shrine, just a few years ago I read the Diary of St. Faustina and it pierced my heart. I just kept having this urge to come and visit the Divine Mercy Shrine. As I spoke about that desire, my friends picked up on this also. We started talking. The Holy Spirit just kept bringing about different situations that confirmed that we should make the visit here.
Examples of the things that led up to the women making the pilgrimage include:
• An organization in the Phoenix area that feeds the homeless received a gift of old, small prayer books. The organization doesn't keep things like that, and so Carolee's brother took a couple of the prayer books, and when he opened them, there were old cards of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy from back, way back, maybe from the early 1940s, just soon after the death of St. Faustina in 1938. The discovery was so unexpected that Carolee viewed it as a sign from God.
• Then, Carolee read the book Consoling the Heart of Jesus, written by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, not knowing he serves as director of the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge.
Carolee: Things like this would happen, bringing confirmation — so many exciting things. I believe they were a message from God to "go for it." We're all kind of in awe of all of this.
Nancy: I grew up in the Danvers [Massachusetts] area. I had never heard of the Shrine or Divine Mercy until a priest mentioned it. I started reading the Diary. I was blown away by it — hearing Jesus speaking of His mercy over and over and over.
How did they come to be so inspired by The Divine Mercy message?
Joan: I don't know how many years ago that the Lord put it on my heart the urgency of this message, that now is the time for us to really come to Jesus, to listen to Him and to help people come to know Him. That has been in my heart for at least 25 years and more and more as time goes by. This is the time of God's mercy.
Sue: I was introduced to the chaplet 17 years ago. I spent my young life raising my children as Catholic as I knew how.
Sadly, she says, her children have fallen from the Catholic faith.
Sue: I firmly believe that every time I pray the chaplet I am one step closer to seeing my children walking in the grace of God.
Carolee: This message just gives us a lot of hope, and it increases our desire to give that hope to people we see.
Speaking of which, during the journey to the Shrine the women looked for — and found — opportunities to speak to strangers about God's mercy. This type of evangelization is new to them.
Joan: We're talking to waitresses —
Nancy: You want them to know that there's something so available for all of us. It's a gift of mercy. Jesus loves us no matter what.
Joan: This is what the Lord wants from us: We are to spread His mercy, so do it.
On the way here, the women disembarked for a night's stay in Chicago, then a night's stay in Albany, N.Y., where the following morning they rented a car for the 40-mile drive to the Shrine.
Carolee: Even at the hotel in Albany, I gave the girl at the desk a prayercard and encouraged her. I could tell she was a little hesitant, but I said, "You know, God loves us and has such mercy for us, and this is the time of His mercy." It's important for us to share this message of mercy.
And on the train?
Carolee: One young guy was sitting there in Army fatigues, and my son is military, so I said good morning to him. His name was Levi. I saw he wore a cross. I said, "Levi, I see you have a cross on. Do you know Jesus?" Over a span of 15 minutes he told me how it was really stupid to believe in Jesus and to be a Christian. So we experience that, also. It's not always that people receive.
Joan: But Carolee, you responded to him beautifully. You told him of the love and mercy Jesus has for him and that one day he would experience that.
Nancy: Oh, and in the train station ...
Carolee: Yes, in the train station we met a lady. During a conversation, she told me she was born and raised Catholic, but now is non-denominational. That was a real door opening, so I pulled out my little mercy card and shared with her about Divine Mercy and encouraged her to pray the chaplet and then said, "Well, see you later." [Laughs.]
Nancy: But back on the train she was very friendly, and her husband kept leaning over looking at the Divine Mercy card.
Carolee: It was so easy. That's not always going to be the case, but we believe the Lord is going to open doors for us. We are learning to see others through the eyes of Jesus. The train is a good place to practice that. We saw one young couple, there wasn't one spot that wasn't tattooed on them, including the face. And yet, when we would say hello to them, they'd be very nice. It doesn't matter what's on the outside, it's who they are on the inside. That's how we have to see people. It's the only way.
Nancy: That's what we're praying for, to be better at seeing that.
Recently, inspired by an article in Marian Helper magazine, the women started a Divine Mercy cenacle to study the Diary, Scripture and the Catechism and to engage together in works of mercy in their community outside of Phoenix. Their Shrine stay — three days of daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy — has inspired the women to double their cenacle efforts and grow in the faith.
Carolee: What I would like to take back to our cenacle group is encouragement to be before the Blessed Sacrament. I've experienced such peace and conviction having spent that time with Jesus. We do have a chapel back home with 24-hour Adoration, but unfortunately many hours aren't filled. We want to get those hours filled.
Nancy: For me, it's making sure I'm aware of the 3 o'clock hour [the hour of Christ's death on the cross]. I get out of work at 3 o'clock, and I don't always think about it.
Joan: I have a deeper desire to grow, spiritually, and to be more open to receive the mercy of God.
The women say they also hope to help their pastor celebrate a beautiful Divine Mercy Sunday celebration this coming year.
Carolee: That's one of our goals. We're just having so much fun. Jesus is so gentle, and He has slowly brought us to this point. Now we see His timing. I mean, look at us, we're old.
It's just so fun to know God is never done with you.
The interview is over.
Sue: We have to get on the train.
Joan: Yeah, we have to get Sue back on the train.
Sue: Is there a plane anywhere nearby.