I went to a Mass yesterday that had an interesting story behind it. I hope you won’t mind an extended description. I am so quick to gripe about What’s Wrong with The Church that I think a story about What’s Right with The Church shouldn’t be kept under a bushel basket.

The intention was for a colleague who died on Thanksgiving day. She actually taught for most of the semester, but the cancer became much worse quickly. For various reasons, in my reading between the lines related to Old World ways of doing things, her mother wasn’t called to make the trip from Italy until it was almost too late. Now the mother, racked with grief, is helping close up her late daughter’s affairs.

One problem is that the mother does not speak English, and my late colleague had no other family in the US. Two other profs, one of whom knows Italian, the other uses Google translate, have been helping a lot and generally keeping Mama (as she is happy to be called) under their wing. Luckily there is a younger Italian guy in my department who can translate and also keeps an eye on Mama.

Mama asked to go to Mass last Sunday, and so my Italian economist colleague got a recommendation from friends on which church to go to–one near downtown, staffed by Paulists. It is the kind of Mass, I gather, where people stand around talking afterwards. Some parishioners chatted with my pal, and tried to chat with Mama, and quickly pieced together what had happened. Now my late colleague wasn’t much of a churchgoer, so there had been no funeral Mass, although the burial was at a monastery. The parishioners, total strangers to Mama and my junior colleague, suggested to Mama to have a Mass said at that church, and they would provide flowers and a small choir, and a reader. So Mama was very pleased at the idea of a Mass.

The Mass was yesterday. Between the parishioners and College faculty, students, staff, and the president and his wife, the day chapel filled up and then some with 25-30 people, so we had to move into the rather grander main sanctuary. I guess that’s what we all want at our funeral, right–more people show up than anyone expected.

The priest, who as it turned out I had loosely known in grad school when he was a chaplain at Ohio State, gave a really nice Mass, by the rule book as far as I could see, and it was nice to see how many in the crowd went to receive Communion (which the Padre noted was for Catholics in good standing). The big book in the pew was an African American Catholic hymnal dedicated to Fr Clarence Rivers, which was the only Cincinnati connection of the day. Afterwards a line formed to offer condoglianze to Mama.

As if these parishioners weren’t kind enough to get the Mass organized, while I stood with the two senior faculty who had taken Mama under her wing, some of the locals came up and offered to take Mama out in the day to the local botanical gardens or other parks.  (She’s going to be here for a couple more weeks.)  These were total strangers to Mama, her helpers, and her late daughter, who were simply offering to take care of a fellow Christian who was in unbelievable pain, in a strange city, and unable to speak the language.

I felt humbled. You know how you read about some people who really ‘get’ Jesus and love their neighbor–it seemed like I was in their presence. That is some parish, the Spirit is with them. I just wanted to acknowledge them, that St. Patrick’s in Memphis has some wonderful Catholic people there. May God continue to bless them.