Good afternoon. My name is Lou Di Iorio. I believe this is the beginning of the fourth year that we are sharing and listening to personal accounts of our fellow parishioners regarding their faith journey. I listened, was inspired by and applauded them.
We are given a loose set of guidelines to assist in writing our faith journey story. Maybe you recall sitting in an English composition class and your teacher would assign a topic for your next writing assignment. The directions almost always ended with the statement, “no fewer than seven hundred fifty words” or something to that effect. You began your assignment, wrote a couple of paragraphs, picked up you pen or pencil and began counting words; to your angst, you counted fifty words. Fifty words down and seven hundred to go. Now, people who know me have commented on how I sometimes have difficulty following guidelines. So this afternoon I present to you my novella. Just funnin’ with you.
I have been a member of St. Clare Parish for about 26-27 years. After a discussion with a local pastor both whose name and the name of the parish will remain anonymous, I found him to be unyielding in his un-forgiveness regarding a transgression revealed during confession. I got in my car drove directly to the rectory of our parish. I knocked on the door and was welcomed by Fr. Fred Taggart and Fr. Jack Burkhart. Fr. Taggart was on his way out the door; Fr. Burkhart welcomed me in and I related what had occurred earlier that afternoon. Father Burkhart’s words were compassionate and comforting. What a great friend he turned out to be! I am still here.
My faith journey began soon to be 70 years ago when I was baptized and administered the last rites at three weeks of age in the then Deaconess Hospital on Jefferson Ave. I don’t recall at what age my mother told me about this, but she said I had a virus that attacked my digestive tract and was unable to ingest anything and the doctors told her and my dad of the possibility that I might die. I am sure my mom and dad’s prayers and the prayers of my other family members helped. When inexplicable things occurred my mother would always say “By the Grace of God, it’s part of His plan.”
My journey continued. I grew up going to Catholic schools for fourteen years. I attended Sunday mass with my parents and two siblings. As students at St. Juliana Grade School and Servite High School, my classmates and I attended daily Mass and weekly novena to Our Sorrowful Mother. I am proud to say that I was educated by the Servite Sisters, the order of sisters to which both our Sr. Kathy and Sr. Peter are members. The sisters along with my parents and the priests were the most influential people in teaching me my Catechism. They taught me how to pray and love God, and because of this God played and continues to play a significant role in my life. Through the good times of which there have been many and I pray for more, and the bad times which we all have experienced, I could and can feel God’s presence in my life.
Moving down the road, the journey continues. In grade school and high school, I always had thoughts of becoming a religious. I was an altar boy and have always been a prayerful person. In my junior and senior year, I was sure this what I wanted. My mother was ecstatic. The Servite priests at St. John Berchman were most supportive. I went into the seminary the summer I graduated from high school. During my first year, through discussion with my teachers and guidance from my religious director I came to the realization that an intense love for God, a prayerful nature, a genuine desire to become a priest and an admiration for the religious who served as role models are vital in the pursuit of your religious vocation. Foremost, however, there has to be unconditional obedience, that is to say a willingness to surrender to “God’s will be done”. God had a different plan for me. I left the seminary at the end of my first year.
Before I left, a wonderful older priest, Fr. Bailey, gave me a bookmark which had an inscription from the Bible. Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for good and not for evil, to gift you a future and hope.” After many prayers I realized God had given me a gift to serve others. I knew it was not going to manifest itself in the field of medicine, government, or law enforcement. I did know that I wanted to be a part of the process that enables individuals to have the tools needed to develop the gifts that God gave them. I became an educator. I was an elementary classroom teacher for fifteen years, then became a central office administrator and finally an elementary school principal. After 39+ years of service to the children and parents of Detroit Public Schools I retired. After retiring I became a tutor in the Dominican Adult Literacy program. The program helps adults achieve a level of literacy that allows them to function in society. The most rewarding were the adults whose main goal was to learn to read so that they would be able to read their Bible.
In the course of traveling along your journey you have probably suffered the loss of some people who were very near and dear to you. Two of my greatest losses were that of my father and mother. My mother died after a long battle with cancer as did my father. Prayer and time heal. Memories and regrets last forever. Health challenges, I’ve had a few. Soon after my father died I started feeling ill. I thought it was just the stress of having been my father’s caregiver and work. I went to the doctor and tests were run. I received a phone call from my doctor. This was the same doctor who delivered me, treated me when I was a baby in the hospital. If you were born in the 1940’s your family doctor was the pediatrician and then became your primary doctor. His voice quivered when he told me the results were back and that he was sorry he did not have the expertise to treat my diagnosis. He said he would make an appointment for me at Henry Ford Hospital with a specialist who would be best suited to help me. He wished me well and asked me to keep in touch. I went to the doctor at Henry Ford Hospital and was told that the diagnosis was a chronic disease for which there was no cure. There were limited drugs that came with harsh side effects that were available. I began treatment. I know one thing. God is good. After the first year of treatment new drugs became available, a variety of different side effects, no cure, but hope. There was a period of time I would go to work with an intravenous pump attached to my waist hidden under my suit jacket. The doctor wanted to know if I wanted to go on medical disability. My reply – “I’m not ready for that .” I’ll say it again. God is good. Twenty- four years later the chronic disease is still present. The meds have improved – still no cure – I’m still here. God is still by my side! One year ago I was diagnosed with hepatitis C. The treatment called for twelve months of treatment, side effects – feel ill five to six days a week for fifty two weeks. My response, “I’ll take my chances and wait for the new drug that was to be approved by the FDA later in the year. The drug was approved, the trial results – 95 – 100% success for cure – side effects – minimal – twelve weeks of treatment = cost $1000 a pill. Total cost for twelve-week treatment - $120,000. My insurance company denied the payment. My hepatologist’s office appealed the decision. I was approved. I took the pills in August of 2015. The results returned in September of 2015 show no virus detected. I can stand here on this altar and say that at no time did I think God would not come to my assistance. The power of prayer is immense. God is Good. I’m still here. God’s plan continues. My journey is still incomplete.
Fast forward on my journey. A change was coming to St. Clare – new leadership. A slender young priest walking down the aisles of the church, stopping at each pew, shaking hands and welcoming each person to God’s house. A breath of fresh air and a man who began and continues to shepherd his flock into new pastures. He began to talk about being bold holy and catholic. He began asking for individuals to think about volunteering for various ministries that foster service, support and unity. There are so many ministries that address the works of mercy. I call these ministries such as Christian service, catechist, hospitality, funeral, Knights of Columbus, ushers and the like my “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. He was not only able to secure a second shepherd to tend to our needs but a deacon too. Fr. Andrew, Father Tom, Deacon Rich – how lucky can any parish be! By bringing in an array of programs such as Alpha, Christ Life, 33 Days to Morning Glory, Alpha, A Catholic Perspective and now A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, we are now afforded many opportunities to engage in religious conversations. Each provides us with occasions for developing new acquaintances and friendships, camaraderie, debate, respectful disagreement, affirmation and sharing of mutual beliefs with other Christians. It’s a good thing. Food for the soul. At times our journey can be lonely and bumpy and filled with potholes. We have so many opportunities to ease that loneliness, smooth some of those bumps and fill in those potholes.
In conclusion, everyone has a different story, but the best part of anyone’s story is always the same – through Jesus we become a cherished child of God and that’s an amazing gift!
I leave you with a prayer that I found that is authored by soon to become Saint Mother Teresa. Heart of Jesus I adore Thee. Heart of Mary I implore Thee. Heart of Joseph meek and just, in your three hearts I place my trust.