Christ Meeting Christ: Franciscan University’s Steubenville Spring Break Mission

As I think about the week I spent advising 40 Franciscan University students who chose to spend their Spring Break serving others right here in Steubenville, the phrase that keeps ringing in my heart is “Christ meeting Christ.” In their scraping, painting, bleaching, listening, counseling, challenging, feeding, visiting, and being present to others, the students certainly showed this city the face of Christ. But the people of Steubenville also showed us His face: He came hungry to the soup kitchen, was bewildered in a teen mom, was lonely in the elderly, zealous in those who work regularly for the betterment of the city, and weary in the job-hunting. The face of Christ that stands out most vividly to me, however, is Christ as I met him in “John.”

John is a man who I met some months ago through a mutual friend at a farmers’ market. He soon started coming to the weekly Bible Study we have at Samaritan House, and I got to know him well. He was sick the whole time I knew him: he had recently been informed that his cancer had come back and he probably did not have very long to live. But his immense zeal for life made it hard to believe that, and I didn’t often think about how sick he was. In the fall, we began to prepare together for consecration to Jesus through Mary, using Fr. Gaitley’s book “33 Days to Morning Glory” and consecrated together at Mass on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

After Christmas, John’s health started to decline more quickly, and he called me from the hospital in February. I visited him a few times there, and he rallied well after surgery and went home. Spring Break week was, for me, the perfect opportunity to have some students over to give John some love as well as practical help in cleaning his house up a bit. It was beautiful to see how he flourished in the light of the students’ love as they talked with him, made him lunch, and cleaned his kitchen. I had, in truth, been somewhat worried about John after my visits to him in the hospital, because he seemed so afraid of God, so afraid of death. But the man I left after our second visit during mission was less angry, more peaceful, and a lot happier than the one I had seen just weeks earlier.

A few days after our mission ended, the hospice nurse called me to let me know that John did not have long to live. Another sister went with me to visit him one last time – and he was a man transformed. The night before, his son and granddaughter came to see him and be reconciled with him after years of estrangement. John, who, burdened with suffering, could be negative and bitter at times, positively glowed as he shared about their time together. When his son came in the door, he embraced him and said, “Son, I have always loved you.” And his son replied, “I have always known that.” The joy in John’s face as he told me about this encounter was stunning. So I asked John, “Are you ready now to meet your Father?” John looked at me sidelong and said, quietly, “Well, you might mean my earthly father, or my spiritual father – or you might mean my Father in Heaven. Anyway, you’re talking about going to the other side.” He stopped to consider, then went on, “You know, I believe that there is a place for me in Heaven.” My heart leaped, and we prayed together one last time, thanking our Father for his love for John, his son.

John died two days later, on the Feast of St. Joseph. And as sad as I was to lose a friend, all sorrow was washed in joy: joy that John had come to peace with his son and with his Father, joy that John had died being loved both by students who were strangers to him and the son who had been estranged. He died knowing that he was the beloved son of the best of fathers – our Father in Heaven. And in his agony and in his peace, he showed me the face of Christ.

Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, T.O.R.

** Note the names used in this story have been changed for confidentiality purposes **

Consider supporting our sisters in who live and minister in downtown Steubenville, Ohio through the Helping Hike for the Poor taking place tomorrow, August 4th. We have almost reached our goal of $13,000, $500 for each of our 26 years of prayer and service in community. Find more information and make a contribution by CLICKING HERE.

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