During Easter Sunday Mass this year, I was gifted with a special grace. I usually attend the 9:30 Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral. On Easter, the parish and I were doubly blessed because Bishop Gainer was the celebrant. Because of his presence, the liturgy was very well attended.
As Mass started, a gentleman, whom I had never before seen, entered the church holding a little girl no more than two years of age. She was dressed in a pink fluffy coat and her blond hair was tied up in pigtails. The barrettes holding up her hair had stuffed pink and yellow bunny ears. She was wearing a white lace dress, tights and patent leather shoes. She was a child with Down syndrome.
Realizing that there were few seats left in the church, I motioned to the young man to sit next to me as I moved over to give them room.
In doing this, the girl assumed that I was a new found friend. She sat on her daddy’s lap and then quickly crawled over to mine and then back to dad’s. She took off her shoes and held up her feet for me to kiss them. This I joyfully did! She discovered my purse and began to thoroughly explore each compartment. I smiled and said to my Beloved, “This is what a mother does!”
During the consecration, the squirmy two year old settled down within her daddy’s arms. I glanced over to them and noticed that she had saddled her dad’s torso as he held her head in one hand and supported her with his other arm. His entire being focused on her as she did the same to him. Their unconditional love for each other was visible.
In the background of this scene I heard the bishop pray, “This is my Body given for you…” Silent tears flowed down the side of my face. I was seeing the Eucharist being lived out between this young father and daughter. After Mass, I thanked him for my Easter gift!
I could not help think of this story as I begin to reflect our diocese’s 150th anniversary and another “blessed” of the Church that visited our beloved local Church: Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrodt.
Blessed Pauline von Mallinckrodt was born into nobility in Germany on June 3, 1817. As a young girl, she had a profound love for the poor. “Picking up pieces of broken glass from the streets so that poor children without shoes would not cut their feet and sharing her allowance with the poor and needy were signs that this child born into an aristocratic family would not allow social status, prestige, power and wealth to deter her from serving Christ in each person, and easing the lot of those less fortunate.” 1
During one of her visits to the homes of the poor, she came across a young woman named Margaret who had severe intellectual difficulties. At first, Pauline would visit her home, but it was eventually decided by Margaret’s parents that she should live with Pauline. She cared for Margaret in every way, training and teaching her as she struggled to manage her severe outbursts of anger. After six years of teaching, Margaret received permission to make her First Penance and shortly thereafter, her First Communion! This was a very special occasion because few people, at that time, who had any intellectual difficulties were permitted to receive the sacraments.
In addition to this work, Pauline established two different schools administering to the needs of the local Church. In 1840, she began a kindergarten for children ages 2-6 whose parents were employed in local factories, leaving the children alone for much of the day. In 1842, she also established a school for the blind. Thus, education became the primary work of the Congregation of the Sisters of Christian Charity that she founded in 1849.
During the 1870s, requests from North and South America for teachers to teach German immigrants came pouring in to Mother Pauline. So she sent Sisters to the new world, following the wave of immigrants. Before Sisters were sent, permission from the local bishop had to be obtained. In a letter addressed to Bishop Shanahan, Blessed Pauline wrote, “… I cherish the gratifying hope that Your Excellency will graciously accept our little Congregation among the number of your spiritual children, and I am happy to promise, in the name of all the Sisters who will work and labor in your diocese, that they will ever prove themselves truly obedient and loyally devoted daughters of Your Excellency, intent ever on furthering the honor of God and the welfare of souls.”
In 1875, three Sisters arrived in Harrisburg to begin teaching at St. Lawrence School, now a part of Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School, as well as St. Hubert, which is now a part of St. Joseph School, Danville.
The legacy of these Sisters to our diocese has been passed on from one generation to the present, as Sisters of Christian Charity currently minister at Bishop McDevitt High School and St. Catherine Labouré School, both in Harrisburg, and sponsor Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill.
The centennial celebration booklet of St. Lawrence parish expresses it this way: “The Sisters of Christian Charity begin their second century in the Greater Harrisburg Area secure in the high esteem of those whom they serve. It is hoped that they continue to bring the presence of Christ to the community as they nobly and generously labor ….”
This certainly a legacy of “This is my body given for you.”
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness