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‘Til death do us part

October 2, 2013

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How great is the love the Father has lavished on us! (1 John 3:1)

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Marriage isn’t merely about the husband and wife, it’s also about the people around the couple as they live this holy sacrament.  Eugene and Mary Kirsch’s 58-year-marriage was a source of blessing to many others because of the beautiful witness they gave.

And they continued to teach about married love–until the very end.

“Family and faith is what’s important!”

Eugene (Gene) and Mary met on a blind date. Since both were very active, they went bowling for this first outing together. Their love seemed a perfect strike from the beginning, and they married in 1955. Five years later, they moved to a home in Roseville and joined Maternity of Mary Church in St. Paul. They raised four daughters–Vicki, Lori, Kathy and Karen. All of the girls went to grade school at Maternity of Mary, and got married there.

Gene and Mary had a home business together–Gene was an accountant and mainly worked out of their basement, while Mary typed forms for him upstairs. Mary was also a part-time sales associate at the JCPenney store in Roseville for 13 years. Their daughter, Vicki Flannigan, said, “Gaining wealth was never important to our parents, but family and faith was important.”

The Kirschs were devout Catholics. In fact, Mary attended daily Mass until she married at age 21, and resumed doing so when she retired from JCPenney. They were active parishioners for 53 years at Maternity of Mary. They were extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, went to Eucharistic Adoration together each week, and helped plan the Cana dinners. “We teased Dad because his pants always had holes in the knees from praying all the Rosaries,” their daughter, Karen Cossack, wrote.

“They always struck me as a couple very much in love,” the Kirschs’ pastor, Father Peter Williams, said. “They were faithful, devoted, and possessed a good sense of humor. I appreciated how they lived their vows, and the manner in which they raised their daughters.”

What’s the secret to a long marriage?

Their daughter Vicki said, “Our parents had a beautiful, married life. The perfect marriage, really. I cannot recall any disrespect or quarreling among those two.”

What was their secret to marital bliss?

Their children think it was a combination of a many things. They only had one plain TV set and seemed to somehow agree on the channel. Perhaps the simple life of one TV and two recliners aided in their success? As they aged, they continued to be active–in their faith, and with other things.  They took walks around the block together all year round, never walking without the other.  They played tennis and golf almost daily and went on 38 cruises together. Yep, 38! Gene would often get up on the ship’s stage and play the piano for people. He liked to sing, too–real loudly; at church, and at other places as well. Once, during a relative’s wedding reception, Gene took the microphone from the DJ and serenaded Mary with the song It had to be you.  Their daughter, Karen, wrote: “When the DJ asked them to reveal the secret of their long marriage, Mom just responded, “Love.”

Vicki wrote in an email:

“The key word for their successful marriage is ‘compliment.’ In my entire childhood and adult life, I can vividly recall both of them complimenting each other all the time! Dad complimented on every meal, nearly every bite! I believe that sometimes the food wasn’t all that delicious but dad still found the part of the meal that he would compliment her on — maybe just the fact that the food was served warm! She would compliment him on all his talents — piano playing, singing, being such a great conversationalist, speaking German, etc.”

In sickness and in health

Five years ago, Mary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and it progressed fairly quickly, especially the type of dementia which is linked with this disease. Gene had a pace maker, but was still doing well. When their parents’ health first started this decline, their daughters turned their childhood home into a care facility. They organized meals for them and brought them to Mass at Maternity of Mary each week. Every day, the daughters made sure that one of them was there to check on their parents and visit with them. They had an excellent system in place.

All eight of the Kirsch grandchildren helped take care of Grandma and Grandpa, too. For example, Bridget Flannigan (age 29), a professional stylist, did Grandma’s hair and nails regularly. Katie King, age 23, a nurse at the Amplatz Children’s Hospital, checked her grandparents’ blood pressure and monitored their other medical needs–she also prayed with them.

On March 14 of this year, Mary fell in her home and fractured her tail bone. She was brought to the hospital and it was decided that she needed transitional care just long enough to recuperate. She was there for two weeks, and each morning the daughters brought their dad to the facility to visit and recite the Rosary. But Mary failed to thrive, and was not eating much.

Easter was on March 31st of this year (2013). While Mary was at the healthcare facility, twenty or so members from the Kirsch family accompanied Gene to Mass at Maternity of Mary. After Masses at their church, it is a tradition that the congregation prays an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be for the next parishioner to pass away. Little did the Kirsch family know that they were all praying for Eugene–he was to meet his heavenly reward later that week.

However, before he passed on, Gene continued to visit his wife. In fact, the whole family piled into their cars after Easter Mass and paid Mary a joyful visit. “My mom and dad kissed on Easter and had a wonderful day surrounded by children and grandchildren,” wrote Karen. But Gene wasn’t quite himself while his bride was in the facility. It was so sad for him to see the love of his life suffering. Two days after Easter–while Gene was sitting beside his wife–she slumped forward into his lap, unresponsive. His beloved wife never spoke or opened her eyes again. The family was called together to pray the Rosary at Mary’s bedside. They knew the end was near, and prayed that it would be peaceful.

The next day, the family made the decision to move both Mary and Gene into the Shoreview Senior Living Center with the intention of having them together. Mary received hospice care while their daughters began the difficult task of planning for her funeral. “In the nursing home, when I was reading Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Catholicism, to my parents, we all cried together. I felt both of their hearts were open and ready for God’s will,” said Karen.

A happy ending

Two days later, on the night of April 5, Gene and Mary were at the care center in their new beds–which were right next to each other. Some of their daughters were in sleeping bags on the floor. During the night, Gene got up to get a glass of water. In mid stride, he passed on–gently sinking to the ground as if he were carried in the arms of Jesus. “We thought God would take our mother first,” Vicki said, “and we knew that would be too hard on Dad.”

But God works in mysterious ways, and the Kirsch daughters now know that it was best that their father went first. They told their mother to look for Dad’s hand and go to heaven.

Two days later, Mary passed away peacefully. She had been anointed by Fr. Williams who had just returned from Italy. Mary and Gene–who loved to do everything together—were laid to rest on the same day. The Maternity of Mary altar was still decorated with the lovely Easter flowers that Mary admired each season. “They were a wonderful couple, something of a fixture at Maternity of Mary for decades,” Fr. Williams said. “They were likable and endearing. It was an honor for me to preside over their double funeral Mass – the first time such a thing has occurred for me in my nine years of serving as a priest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 things Pope Francis told Catholic gynecologists

September 21, 2013

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Photo by Naomi O'Leary

Photo by Naomi O’Leary

On Thursday, September 19, an article was released in  Jesuit publications. In this interview Pope Francis discussed the church’s emphasis on controversial social topics. He suggested instead a merciful and less judgmental church.

The next day The Holy Father met with a group of Catholic gynecologists. Here are two strong anti-abortion things he told them:

1. Abortion is a symptom of our “throwaway culture.” He urged them to refuse to perform the procedure.

2. “Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord.”

Way to go, Papa!

(Compiled by a New York Times article that ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Saturday, September 21, 2013.)

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Britain’s Got Talent–an act that shows the gift of life

September 12, 2013

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This powerful performance by a shadow theatre troupe brought the show’s judges to tears–even Simon Cowell! The performance is by Attraction–a group from Budapest which was founded in 2004 by Zoltan Szucs. They became well-known when they danced at the Hungarian Olympic Oath Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. This performance (shown below) won the seventh series of Britain’s Got Talent which was on June 8, 2013.

I love the beating heart of the unborn baby and the adoration the son has for his aging mother. What magnificent messages! (For other faith-filled stories visit News and Faith.) Enjoy!

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3 powerful paragraphs on sexuality from Archbishop Nienstedt

September 5, 2013

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“Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24)

Licensed under Creative Commons by charm2010

Licensed under Creative Commons by charm2010

Men and women are different on the inside and the out. There’s no doubt about it. We were made to interconnect and be interdependent.  This is the nuptial meaning of the body–the eternal mystery of self-giving love.

Christopher West, author of Theology of the Body for Beginners, says, “The whole reality of married life, of course, is a sacrament. But nowhere is the ‘great mystery’ more evident than when the two become ‘one flesh’.”

This union is a miracle really, which is all in God’s marvelous plan for life.

Cooperating with the Creator’s plan

As I read the August 29, 2013 edition of The Catholic Spirit I was in awe of the beautiful way Archbishop John Nienstedt explained the complimentary differences between husband and wife:

“A woman’s body is obviously made in such a way so as to welcome a man’s body, and his is made to respond in kind. Their unimpeded conjugal union is designed to be reproductive, bringing forth new human life that needs to be protected and nourished. The natural context for such a relationship is the life-long, mutually exclusive union of husband and wife in what has, until recently, been called ‘marriage.’

The woman’s body has both fertile and infertile cycles, so as to allow for human reproduction as well as human intimacy and pleasure. Programs of natural family planning teach a couple how to read the signs so as to gain knowledge of how they should respond. It takes much of the guess work out of conception. True, it also takes discipline, but that leads to self-knowledge and virtue.

Natural family planning is not a Catholic version of contraception. Far from it. It is a valued and valuable method by which the married couple cooperates with nature and its laws, all of which have been designed by God ‘from the beginning’.”

The purpose of life

Why is it so difficult for some people to understand this? It should be simple to comprehend. It’s elementary, my dear Watson! It’s biology. It’s the law of nature. It’s black and white. Yin and Yang. Married love. The physical manifestations of male and female.

We are not opposing forces. We interact to form a whole greater than either separate part.

What is the purpose of this beautiful reality?

Christopher West explains it this way (p. 29):

“If you are looking for the meaning of life, according to John Paul II, it’s impressed right in your body–in your sexuality! The purpose of life is to love as God loves, and this is what your body as a man or woman calls you to. Think of it this way: A man’s body doesn’t make sense by itself. Nor does a woman’s body. But seen in light of each other, sexual difference reveals the unmistakable plan of God that man and woman are meant to be a ‘gift’ to one another. Not only that, but their mutural gift (in normal course of events) leads to a ‘third’.”

Yes, life is a gift. Why not embrace it?

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Children become pro-life by example and instruction

August 26, 2013

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Licensed under Creative Commons

Licensed under Creative Commons

How are children supposed to learn about respect for human life if no one teaches them by role modeling and giving instruction? Oftentimes, I hear parents say, “I don’t want little junior to know about abortion or euthanasia. The thought of killing sweet babies and the elderly would disturb them too much!”

Of course, we want to respect the age of innocence, but there comes a time when parents have a moral responsibility to encourage their children to promote life. To make this possible, parents need to “walk the walk,” and  kids need to be taught that we live in a culture of death. The goal is to give them the truth sprinkled with hope and mercy. Eventually, as the young ones grow up, they can expand on the knowledge that Mommy and Daddy gave them, and use these tools in order to teach others.

But to do this, they need to know about some yucky things that are plaguing our world today.

What’s a good age for kids to learn about the atrocities out there?

Well, given the stuff they see by means of the media, I think that children can handle information about the evils of abortion and euthanasia–and heck, we’d better throw pornography and genocide into the mix as well–by the time they enter junior high. Kids’ bodies are changing around that time and they are curious about everything. They appreciate and deserve the truth, and they crave adults being level with them. They want to be guided along the right path, and they start to develop leadership skills. And boy, we need this next generation to be our leaders for the marginalized! If  right and wrong is not ingrained in their heads by the time they hit puberty, they are more apt to be led astray by peer pressure as they get older, and not carry the torch for life.

My husband and I started discussing respect for human life with our nine children when they were in the stroller (See my blog called, My Prolife Running Stroller). They’d be strapped into the contraption when I took their big brothers and sisters outside Planned Parenthood to pray. As they got more mature this practice fueled many good questions:

“Why are people going in that naughty building?”

“Why are the police letting them go in there?”

“How can we help?”

The other aspects of life were taught as the subjects arose. When they read a book about Anne Frank or see a presentation on The Lost Boys of Sudan we discuss genocide. I tell them to look the other way as we stroll past Victoria’s Secret, and I tell them why pictures with women falling out of their tops are bad. And appreciation of the elderly was learned by spending time with older family friends and grandparents.

It’s not that hard, and it must be done.

 Pope to parents: Teach your children to respect, defend life

The Catholic News Service wrote this article (Printed in The Catholic Spirit’s August 15, 2013 issue):

Respect for human life from conception until natural death is something children must be taught, not mainly with words, but by the example of their parents, Pope Francis said.

“Parents are called to pass on to their children the awareness that life must always be defended,” Pope Francis wrote in a message to people joining in the Brazilian Catholic Church’s celebration of Family Week, which began Aug. 11.

The pope returned to his condemnation of the “throwaway culture,” something he spoke against several times during his July 22-28 visit to Brazil. He had said that modern cultures tend to treat even human lives as disposable, pointing to the way people, societies and even governments tend to treat both the young and the old.

In his message for Family Week, he said parents have a responsibility to fight that disposable culture by teaching their children that human life, “from the womb,” is a gift from God. New life ensures the future of humanity, he said, while older people — especially grandparents — “are the living memory of a people, and transmit the wisdom of life.”

The pope also charged married Catholic couples and their children with the task of recognizing they must be “the most convincing heralds” of the beauty and grace of Christian marriage.

I think Pope Francis is spot on! Don’t you?

 

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Tribute to Adam

August 6, 2013

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From left, Steve, Tyler, Lisa, Ryan and Rachel Gott hold the championship trophy for the lacrosse tournament in honor of Adam, the son of Steve and Lisa who died in a motorbike accident last summer. The tournament was held at Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood July 13 and 14. Photo by Lori Wietecki / Special to The Catholic Spirit

From left, Steve, Tyler, Lisa, Ryan and Rachel Gott hold the championship trophy for the lacrosse tournament in honor of Adam, the son of Steve and Lisa who died in a motorbike accident last summer. The tournament was held at Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood July 13 and 14. Photo by Lori Wietecki / Special to The Catholic Spirit

 

A replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà sits upon the mantle in the home of my friends, Steve and Lisa Gott. It has been there for years. The sculpture depicts Mary with her head tilted and eyes closed in prayerful mourning, cradling her beloved son after he was crucified.

The prophets foretold Jesus’ death, so Mary must have been prepared a little, but no matter the circumstances, losing a child must be the most terrible thing in the world. The Pietà on the Gotts’ mantle now holds significant meaning for them because they’ve experienced Mary’s pain firsthand.

Every parent’s fear

During the month of June last year, Steve and Lisa were happily spending their days with their son Adam and his three siblings: Tyler, Ryan and Rachel. Adam, a graduate of Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood, had moved out of Tommie Hall at St. John’s University and into his old bedroom at their home in Stillwater. He had just wrapped up his freshman year and was looking forward to playing lacrosse and working his summer job as a painter for their friends’ company, Fresh Paint.

On the last day of June, Steve took his sons Ryan, who was 22, and Adam, 19, golfing and then to a car show. “When we got home, Adam packed a bag and headed to a family friend’s cabin. It was the last time I talked to him,” said Steve.

After 5:30 Mass that evening at their parish, St. Michael in Stillwater, the Gotts received the type of phone call that every parent fears. It was one of Adam’s buddies. “Adam had an accident,” the young man cried. Steve and Lisa drove two hours to the hospital in Sandstone. The rosary was recited the whole way. They phoned a nurse there who told them, “Doctors are having difficulty finding a pulse.”

When they got to the emergency room’s parking lot, they saw their family friends outside. “Is he alive?” the hopeful parents asked.

Lisa told me through tears that when they heard the words “No,” she sank to her knees. Adam’s college friend, who also had played lacrosse with him at Hill-Murray, picked the mourning mother up and brought both parents into the hospital to see their son.

This young man had been with Adam a few hours earlier riding a motorbike. Adam hit a tree when it was his turn. Even though he was wearing a helmet, he had suffered a hard blow to the head. His buddy bravely administered CPR while waiting for help, but Adam died on impact.

Their Pieta

Now when I go to the Gott’s home and examine the Pietà, I also see a representation of Lisa and Steve holding Adam. I think of a story Lisa told me the day after his accident:

 “When I was getting ready to view Adam’s body at the funeral home, I prayed for the Blessed Mother’s intercession. I said, ‘Mary, help me get through this.’ As I cradled Adam and had my face in his hair, I begged Mary once again to help me. As I was kneeling beside him, my body began to tingle and I felt lifted or supported. . . and then I saw Adam with Mary and I knew he was OK.”

Adam’s faith

Adam’s parents, who were chairs for the Catholic Services Appeal in 2009 and 2010, are thankful he had a K-12 Catholic education, plus one year to learn more about his religion at St. John’s. They believe the values and character traits that are developed in a Catholic environment are priceless. Knowing that their child had a strong faith and that he died with the graces of a good relationship with God has given them comfort.

Something else that gives Steve great comfort is the memories he stows in his heart of the medical mission trip to Peru he took with Adam a few years ago. At this clinic in South America, Adam worked with his father, who is an anesthesiologist.The young man mostly assisted with the Peruvian children before and after their surgeries. He always had a gift with kids and a smile that captivated people. He used these talents in everything, from helping the needy to coaching during mini youth camps at Hill-Murray even after he graduated.

For his myriad volunteer activities, Adam was awarded a Gold Level Service Award from Hill-Murray when he was a student.

After the accident, his employers at Fresh Paint established the Adam Gott Scholarship at Hill-Murray, which awards a junior or senior $1,000 for tuition. They wanted to honor Adam because he exemplified the ideals of a Hill-Murray student through his dedication to academics while maintaining high levels of athleticism and service to the community. Those who knew Adam are excited about this scholarship because, in his short 19 years, he was an ambitious leader who centered his life on his Christian faith.

Adam was an altar server through high school. In the funeral homily, Father Michael Miller said, “When I first became pastor at St. Michael’s, one of the Dominican sisters at St. Croix Catholic told me to keep an eye out for Adam Gott because he was a special kid who loved his Catholic faith.”

The night before he died, Adam’s friends were teasing him because of a decision he had to make. He told them, “God will decide what is supposed to happen because he decides everything in my life.” His mother said that her son trusted in the Lord and had a good-natured contentment because he knew life wasn’t centered on himself; life was about God’s will.

A day after Adam’s death, friends gathered in the chapel at Hill-Murray. It was overflowing with people who, in a time of shock and sadness, chose to be in a holy place that reminded them of their friend.

The tournament

That same chapel was filled once again on July 13. The first annual Gott to Lax tournament was held on the weekend of July 13 and 14 at Hill-Murray, with Mass celebrated during the event. This tournament was the brainchild of Adam’s high school coaches, Greg and Kristy Visich, who also served as tournament directors.

They were happy to do something in Adam’s memory because their family is better for having known him. “Our children grew up with Adam as a strong role model within the Catholic faith, in his service to the community, and simply in his daily demonstration of treating people with respect and kindness” they said.

They also said that Adam, who played the position of attack, was always a natural leader and earned the designation of captain at both the JV and varsity level. A trophy emblazoned with Adam’s silhouette was presented by the Gotts to the tournament champions from Prior Lake on July 14.

Nine high school boys’ teams participated, with more teams put on a waiting list. Hundreds of people attended, and it is estimated that the event raised $20,000. Proceeds benefit the newly established Adam Gott Collegiate Club Lacrosse Player Fee Scholarship Fund.

The vast majority of high school lacrosse players continue at the college club level and the cost to participate in these programs ranges from $500 to $3,000 per academic year. Many students simply can’t afford the added expense, and this scholarship will help. For more information visit http://www.penguinlacrosse.com.

Among the 100 volunteers at the event was Adam’s father, who served as the medical representative. “Adam was a very frugal accounting major,” Steve said. “After he passed away, we found a spreadsheet on his computer that organized his spending. He’d be happy to know that there’s funding now available to help college students.”

Lisa told me after it ended, “If there was a way that Adam saw this tournament, he’d have been so thrilled to see everyone having so much fun. It was an unbelievable weekend.”

 

 

 

 

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How to become a sidewalk counselor

July 23, 2013

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unborn-babyDo you want to do more in order to promote life? Perhaps you are being called to counsel people who are abortion-minded. Many babies have been saved because of kind words uttered by a counselor when their parents were entering an abortuary. Kalley Yanta–a sidewalk counselor–says, “A woman entering an abortion clinic is on the verge of falling overboard with her baby. This is life or death. It’s an emergency. What we do is crucial.”  People are lined up at places like Planned Parenthood as if they’re at a fast food drive-thru; and those little ones need more help.

The 2013 National Sidewalk Counseling Symposium is being held July 25-27. This event is sponsored by Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM). Here is what their website states:

This symposium is open to any pro-lifer interested in sidewalk counseling! Presenters include Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life; Shawn Carney of 40 Days for Life; Joe, Ann, and Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League; Rev. Walter Hoye of Issues4Life Foundation, and other sidewalk counseling leaders. The symposium will begin on Thursday evening, continue all day Friday, and conclude before noon on Saturday at the Best Western Premier Nicollet Inn at 14201 Nicollet Ave. S., Burnsville, MN . The fee is $50 (there may be some scholarships available for those unable to afford this fee). Please call 651-771-1500 to register.

Since 1981 there have been 2863 babies saved through the efforts of Pro-Life Action Ministries. Just this year 53 lives have been spared so far, but we need more help on the frontlines! Please view this informative video below and then visit Plam’s website for more information.

Thanks for all you do to embrace life!

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(Please read my earlier blogs about a baby being saved and my thank you to Pro-Life Action Ministries)

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Author Vince Flynn left behind much more than his books

July 8, 2013

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Vince and Lysa Flynn

Vince and Lysa Flynn

Author’s note: This article was written for The Catholic Spirit.

In mourning the loss of a loved one, it’s tempting to just crawl under the covers and stay there. But those who are left behind need to trudge forward, and that’s what the family of Vince Flynn is doing right now. I believe he’s watching them with pride pumping his fists into the air and cheering in that big, bellowing voice of his.

The day after her 47-year-old husband was laid to rest, his wife Lysa was delivering bouquets to people who had helped their family during the past week — like the woman who had watched their dog when Vince was in the hospital.

Since their father’s death, Dane, 17 has continued to work at his summer custodial job at St. Thomas Academy. Some of his friends came and “kidnapped” him the other night and took him out for ice cream. His daughters Ingrid, 12, and Ana, 10, have been to dance practice and saw “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Of course, there are times when they crumple over in tears, but Lysa said that it’s the kindness of others and the grace of God that helps them with this new chapter of their lives.

Yep, Vinnie is proud.

 

His last chapter

In November of 2010, Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer. He passed away at 2 a.m. on June 19 surrounded by about 35 family members and friends. My husband and I were honored to be there. His wife had been a patient “Nurse Nightingale” by his side for the last two and a half years, and until he took his last breath. He fought tenaciously for survival, just like the CIA operatives do in the stories he created.

As a friend of Vinnie’s, it was hard to watch him losing this battle. This man who was bigger than life used to wrestle with gusto with our toddling twins. Eventually, those tussles became gentler and the therapeutic hormones Mr. Flynn was taking would make him drip with sweat. As the months went on, it became more painful for him to move, and he would just sit in the red chair by our fireplace and watch the twins play. And then, as of April, it was too difficult for him to get out of bed. He’d ask us to bring the identical pair to his home, where he’d enjoy passively watching them chase his dog around.

For the last four months or so of Vince’s life, someone needed to be with him at all times. His brother Tim and some friends took turns sitting with him and taking him to his myriad appointments. A barf bag was always at arm’s length.

 

‘Keep the faith’

Last week, outside the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Vince’s friends and admirers formed a line stretching for two blocks. Each one had a story about the author, and many were impressed by the depth of his faith. Steve Polski, who played football with Vince at the University of St. Thomas, said, “Vinnie was one of those rare guys who became more religious as he became famous. That doesn’t happen too often with celebrities.” Vince truly lived by his favorite motto: “Keep the faith.”

In his homily, Father Peter Laird, who also went to college with Vince, said that toward the end, there were always two things in Vinnie’s hands: his phone and his ring rosary. “One was used to communicate with people on Earth, and one was used to communicate with God in Heaven.”

Asked about Vince’s faith, Lysa said, “Prayer was his life boat. It helped him keep his head above the waves. It wasn’t just a thing he checked off his list; he prayed all day long.” She went on to say that when he was first diagnosed with cancer, his sister’s boss sent him a card with a prayer to St. Jude. “It stayed on our nightstand and he said it every day,” she added. Another item that remained nearby was a copy of the “Magnificat.”

As his friends, we often witnessed his Catholic devotion, but noted that it was limited by his Type-A personality. He became anxious if Masses ran too long. And during his illness, the Flynns often stood in the back of church, as we did. As sick as he was, Vince would try to help us chase around our toddling twins or just hold them in order to give us a break. That’s the kind of guy he was.

He demonstrated that faith was a priority by giving generously of his time and talent to the church and Catholic schools. He publically expressed this priority in 2012 when he wrote in the acknowledgments of “Kill Shot”:

 “To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel and St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes, thank you.”

 

His Legacy

Following a reception at the University of St. Thomas, Vince was laid to rest in Resurrection Cemetery.

Atria Books publicist, David Brown, sent this note: “It was such a beautiful service; sad but celebratory. The long line of people waiting to greet the family was reminiscent of one of Vince’s book signings which I thought was very fitting. It was a wonderful tribute for a great man who I was so lucky to have been able to work with and get to know for the past eight years. I love my job much less now that he is gone. He leaves a hole for everyone.”

His godchild, Owen Tracy, 16, is feeling the hole, too. “When it came time to pick a confirmation sponsor, the first name that came into my head was Vince. I was more than heartbroken when I lost him. He meant so much to me. I hope to be half the man he was. I loved him so much and always will,” he said.

Vince also meant a lot to John Steveken, a St. Thomas Academy classmate. He credits Vinnie with saving his life. After his own late diagnosis, Vince encouraged all of his loved ones to get tested for cancer. Thanks to his urging, Steveken’s prostate cancer was discovered early. He had surgery and is doing well.

Last Tuesday as Lysa was delivering the bouquets, she talked about all the cards and letters of condolence she had received. “Vince left us many books, but what I’m reading in these notes is that he gave us much more than just his stories; these letters are about him as a person, and how much he gave to people.” She smiled and then added, “That’s his legacy.”

 

(to view a blog about Vince Flynn and abortion click here–To read about Vince’s faith and death click here and hereSchneeman is the author of the blog, Embracing Life on CatholicHotdish.com. She and her husband Eric are the parents of nine children and are members of St. Joseph parish in West St. Paul.)

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Vince, you will be missed

June 23, 2013

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“My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.”-JH Newman (Taken from Vince Flynn’s funeral prayer card which will be shaped like a bookmark)

The past few days have been hard for everyone who knew novelist Vince Flynn–and even for those who didn’t. As his loved-ones go on automatic pilot getting ready for the funeral here are some observations and memories that pop up; helping to subside the pain.

Misty water-colored memories

When Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer in November of 2010 he immediately gave up eating red meat and cut down on sugars. Even though it must have been tough for a former college football player to do so, he never complained about this sacrifice. He was hoping to prolong his life as much as he could for his family. To aid in this endeavor his wife Lysa put her Minnesota farm girl background to work by creating a large organic garden in their back yard. Vince was very proud of Lysa’s green thumb and beamed when she’d tote a basket of her “garden goodies” to friends’ houses.

The first time he met Lysa’s family in northern Minnesota Vince was so nervous that he got sick with anxiety. They’d laugh telling the story of how during that visit he spent more time inside the farmhouse’s bathroom than he did outside of it.

Vinnie liked Lysa’s turkey Tater Tot Hotdish, Leslie’s grilled veggies and any scrumptious pies that their friend, Lauri Schneider, pulled out of her oven (but he only savored a few bites of her sweets once he was diagnosed). Cabernet was his favorite wine, and while he was living with cancer he’d enjoy a vodka-Pom “because pomegranate juice has antioxidants.” He’d watch Saturday Night Live, Modern Family and Downton Abbey. The Black Keys, Kid Rock and Eric Church were some of the artists on his playlist. Often he’d be spotted wearing plaid shirts or athletic gear from his alma maters (St. Thomas Academy ’84 and University of St. Thomas ’88).

He loved watching his son Dane (17) wrestle, play football, basketball and run track. He roasted in the stands at his girls’ (aged 10 and 12) swim meets and actually enjoyed their dance recitals, although he’d grumble about them. He was fiercely proud of his brother, Tim, who is the commander of the St. Paul S.W.A.T. team. He’d email links to articles about his baby brother and brag about him to friends.

Speaking of friends, one of my favorite stories of the 47-year-old-novelist is this: Not long after college, a buddy of Vince’s and his wife had a baby that was delivered stillborn. The auntie told me, “We were all so touched to see the friends–including Vinnie– take time from their busy schedules and come to the little one’s funeral.” I think this speaks volumes about the respect for life that these young men had.

Vince always put his friends first. Years ago, the novelist with dyslexia was traveling with his publicist from Atria Books, David Brown. When Vince got to his hotel room he discovered that it was very small. (Usually he’d have a luxury suite assigned to him.) When Brown joined Vince later that day he exclaimed with excitement, “You should see my room, it’s huge!” Vince knew right away that the staff had mixed up the rooms, but he didn’t make Brown switch with him. When I mentioned this hotel story to his publicist Brown told me this: “Vince was very special to me. He was a rare crossover of someone who I worked with but considered a friend. In fact, I’ve been telling that same hotel story over the past 24 hours. I tell people that Vince let me stay in that room 90% because he was that kind and generous and 10% because he loved having something to needle me about for years to come!”

Besides having a fun sense of humor, the left-handed author had the uncanny ability to follow two conversations at once. If his wife and I tried to have a private talk he’d hear every word–even if we were whispering–and he’d always pitch in his two-cents-worth whether we wanted it or not. About five weeks ago,Vince–who was nearly bed-ridden–had called my husband Eric and me to see if we’d bring our four-year-old twins over to his house so that he could watch Thing 1 and Thing 2 play with his dog. (Actually, they were shooting his dog with their play guns.) We were so eager to visit with him, but when we got there the home healthcare nurse had to call an ambulance because his heart was acting up. As the rescue crew worked on him my husband gathered Vinnie’s things in a hospital bag. During this time the twins and I were on the back porch that is two rooms away. The little boys were chasing the family pet and I accidentally called the dog Dane (his son’s name). When I re-entered the room in which Vince reclined he asked weakly, “Kathy, did you just call my dog Dane?” That’s when it hit me: even though his body was crumbling before us and his ability to read, write and concentrate was waning, he still had that darn gift of super-hearing. The 35 friends and family members who were around his bed on June 19 are hoping that his ears were still working well in the end as we prayed, said our thank yous, and called: “We love you, Vinnie. Goodbye.”

I’ll never forget how hard it was to explain to the twins where their friend had gone. With their limited speech they asked, “He go where good guys go?” We told Thing 1 and Thing 2 that yes, we believed he was in heaven. Since “Mifi” (twin-talk for Mr. Flynn) and Lysa always gave them chocolate milk at their home their next question was: “He hab chocat mewk dere?”

I like to think that he is with his friend Dr. Mike Nanne who passed away from a brain tumor last year. It’s a comforting thought. Maybe they’re both drinking chocolate milk (or something stronger) with the saints at an Irish pub in Heaven.

 Support

For the last four months or so of Vince’s life someone needed to be with him at all times. His brother Tim, childhood friend Tom Tracy and my husband took turns sitting with him and taking him to his myriad appointments and infusions. A barf bag was always at arm’s reach. Glenn Caruso, University of St. Thomas’ football coach who was voted Division lll National Coach of the Year for 2012, lost his mother at  age eight and his father six years ago. He spent time with Vinnie one day this spring so that Lysa could plant her garden. Coach Caruso has supported Vince’s son, Dane, through many conversations and pep talks. In the fall of 2014 Dane is hoping to be on his UST powerhouse team.

Lysa’s sister has been by her side continuously for the last week, and family friends, the Aslesons, have been doing dishes, watering flowers and taking care of Vince’s kids. Amelia Santaniello (a news anchor with WCCO) took his daughters shopping to buy them dresses for their daddy’s funeral. And someone bought Lysa some nylons so she wouldn’t have to.

For the past many years every Thursday was date night for the Flynns. Often, Vince and Lysa would dine at Axel’s in Mendota. When Vinnie started to get too weak, Susie Fick and Valerie Tracy would take Vince’s place in order to get Lysa out. Being the round-the-clock caretaker for her husband, Lysa needed the break.

Come to think of it, Valerie’s husband, Tom Tracy, is probably home writing Vince’s eulogy as I jot down these thoughts. We’ve been praying for him. I’m sure he’s traveling along an emotional journey in doing so.

Signs of Hope

moose sign

Vince’s children were able to visit with their dad on Father’s Day while he was in United Hospital in St. Paul. This was the last day he was able to communicate. They are so thankful for this gift. In fact, he even asked them to grab him something to eat from Cossetta’s. He seemed to be better than he had been doing lately, but then he took a turn for the worse early the next morning. He passed away two days later. Fr. Peter Laird sat on the St. Thomas Academy board with the author and they attended the University of St. Thomas at the same time. During Father’s Day weekend Father Laird sent his friend a text that said, “Everything to Jesus.” Vince replied with the last lines he was to write to the priest: “Amen!”

Ed Kocourek, Vince’s prayer mentor, gave the author one of those decade rosaries that fits on a finger like a ring. Being a Knight of Malta with a mission of helping the sick, Ed had this rosary blessed at the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France. Vinnie kept it with him throughout his illness. He even brought it with him when he was encapsulated in the MRI scanners. When Vince passed away, on his finger was this rosary adjacent to his wedding band. After we saw him take his last breath, Lysa gave the rosary to Dane.

The next day Nativity of our Lord Church in St. Paul was filled with friends of Vinnie’s who wanted to celebrate his life. The Mass was said by Fr. John Malone of the University of St. Thomas and was planned by Dan and Patty McQuillan. (Vinnie used to bartend for them at their bar and grill, Plum’s, when he was a struggling author.) Those in the pews had been saying a novena for their friend, and the Mass was originally planned to ask for healing. But God had called Vince home. On Monday people will once again fill a church for Vince–the Cathedral of St. Paul this time–for his funeral.

Yesterday I noticed that Lysa’s peaceful smile had returned. There’s still a bit of sadness behind it, but I can see the worry has disappeared from her eyes. She’s relieved her husband isn’t suffering anymore. I’m so proud of the perseverance and strength that she exuded over the past two and a half years. I know Vince will want her and their children to “Keep the faith” (his favorite saying).

The other day, Dane was playing video games with his uncle David Juran when I stopped by to pick up his little sisters for my daughter’s birthday party. He gave me a smile and I got to see Vince’s daughters smile, too, as we watched Joseph at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. They say that kids are so resilient (Thank God!), and I witnessed another ray of hope when the girls sang along with the country music station all the way home. As we drove along Highway 13 the sign in front of Moose Country read: “Vince, you will be missed.” Vinnie’s daughters were touched and asked me to stop and take a picture. One of my girls said, “Geez, your dad must have been kinda famous.”

(For other stories about Vince Flynn click here and here.)

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Our friend, Vinnie

June 19, 2013

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Vince and Lysa Flynn in Cabo

Vince and Lysa Flynn in Cabo

Vince Flynn was calling his next book The Survivor. He got the idea for this title while on a trip to Cabo in February. A friend, Roberto, made him a cake (with the aid of his minions) that looked like a book. “Survivor Man” was written along the bottom on edible paper. He took a look at that dessert and said, “Wow, that would be a great title for my novel!” That vacation was the last time Vinnie felt well enough to walk around much. In fact, he even made it to a beach located a few resorts away to watch his girls swimming like mermaids in the Sea of Cortez. But even though his strength began to diminish, the act of surviving remained paramount on the novelist’s mind until the final chapter of his life.

In November of 2010 Vince was diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer. He passed away at 2:00 AM on June 19 surrounded by about 35 family members and friends. My husband and I were honored to be there. His wife had been a patient Nurse Nightingale by his side for the last two and a half years, and of course she was there when he took his last breath, too. He fought to live,  just like the CIA operatives did in the stories he created. He was brave and courageous,  just  like the characters were within his fictional pieces.

The past two years his close buddy, Tom Tracy, organized a “Movember” team called “Mitch Rapp and the Killer Mustaches.” Their efforts–which included growing facial hair–raised $80,000 for prostate cancer awareness and cure. We all wish a cure would have come soon enough for our friend, Vinnie.

He is in a better place now; in a Heavenly Paradise–not the palm tree and sand type of paradise like his favorite spot in Mexico, but the place we all strive to go to when it is our time: our eternal home. But we wish his health would have improved and that he would have been a “Survivor Man.” We wish he could have finished that last novel, and many other Mitch Rapp stories.

Some memories

My husband, Eric, and I have known the Flynns for years. I used to work with Vinnie’s wife, Lysa, in the fashion industry during our younger days. Eric went to high school with the future author at St. Thomas Academy, where, for the last few years, Vince sat on the board. I didn’t go to high school with Vinnie (It’s all-male), but I did meet him for the first time when one of his friends, Nick Flood, asked me to their military ball. A few years later, we were students together at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota (now the University of St. Thomas). One of my favorite memories of Vince occurred when I’d spot him in Murray Hall wearing his football jacket. An entourage surrounded him–always. Especially a harem of co-eds fluttering their eyelids. But because he was such a people-person, Vince always had time for the other folks walking by, too. “Hi, Steveken,” and “How are you, McFadden?” or “Hello Fr. Malone” could be heard between classes. His magnetic personality was one trait that made him successful, I’m sure.

Mary Ann Grossmann, book critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, once told me that when Vince Flynn first became famous, women flocked to his book signings because this new author was eye candy. But this attention never went to his head, and thankfully, God blessed him with brains to go with that brawn, too. I recently told him: “Vinnie, I have a confession. I was a Doubting Thomas. Eric and I used to go to O’Gara’s and see you tending bar and I’d say, ‘Whatever happened to Vinnie? He was such a smart guy. He had a great job after college–which he quit–and now he’s pouring drinks and supposedly writing a book.’ ” (Of course when I said writing a book I made quotation marks with my fingers in ridicule.) Vince laughed so hard when I admitted this lapse of faith in him. “You weren’t the only one, Kathy. Others have told me the same thing.” But I was frustrated with myself for doubting his abilities, especially since my mom–who is a writer–was always pulling for him. When he self-published his first novel Term Limits in 1997,  my mother (who knew Vince through the O’Gara family) was so proud of him for following his dreams and being triumphant. And now– “dontcha know”–he has 14 novels on the New York Times Best Seller List.

She didn’t, but my mom could have said to me, “See, I told you so.”

And eventually, over wine with our spouses in his cigar room, I told him, “I’m so proud of you Vinnie. Not only for being a successful writer, but for being a successful husband and father, too.” I’m so glad, now, that I told him that.

Growing up in a big family

Another reason for the novelist’s success was that he grew up in a creative family that liked to tell stories. Knowing that I dabble in writing he once told me: “Kathy, you’re so lucky to have a big, extended family. I’ve sat and listened to your McMahon uncles, and nobody can spin a tale like they can. That’s a gift that they gave you. I wouldn’t be where I am today if my family hadn’t shared their narratives.”

There were seven kids in the Flynn household. Their father, Terry, was a teacher and coach at St. Thomas Academy when the snappers were young. Their mother, Kathleen, has always been an incredible artist of wildlife–especially of water fowl, earning her the nickname, “Grandma Duck.” (She was named Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year in the past.) Vince liked to discuss his family’s gift of Irish gab, saying that they would often discuss politics, current events and history–fueling little Vinnie’s interest in these topics. Quite often their dinner-time storytelling would get rambunctious, with fistfights and tears.Vince would refer to their childhood squabbles as “The Fightin’ Irish episodes.” His longtime buddy, Brian Kruse, (who helped sell Vince’s first book out of the trunk of his car) said that Vince was excellent at debating. “He honed in on this craft because he’d had lots of practice collecting facts to present to his family during their opposing arguments.” This is definitely a gift which he was able to carry into his writing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, too. Vince was always stubborn, and he loved to be right.

A family man

Before Vince Flynn became a household name, he married a small-town girl from northern Minnesota. (They were introduced by news anchors Frank Vascillaro and Amelia Santaniello.) I love what the author wrote about his “Honey” (as he called her) in the acknowledgments of The Last Man:

“To my darling wife, Lysa, who has always been wise beyond her years, thank you for giving me some of that wisdom when I really needed it. Now if I could just get some of that grace from you, I’d really have things moving in the right direction. You are my favorite thing about life.”

When that book came out, I told Vinnie that he’d better be careful, because what he wrote about his wife was so beautiful that the publishers were going to start listing his thrillers as romance novels.

During one of our dinners together, Vinnie told Eric and me, “Whenever I’m on the road and I think women are getting a little flirty with me, I just flash my wedding band.” He had no tolerance for infidelity and treasured his beautiful marriage. In all the years I knew him he only had lovely things to say about his wife.

Every Thursday was date night; usually at their favorite restaurant in Mendota for a Bloody Mary and crab cakes. Everyone knew them there, they were like Norm in Cheers.

The Flynns have three children between the ages of 10 and 17. Our old friendship was re-ignited when our kids started doing things together after they moved from a Minneapolis suburb to “the better side of the river.” (For those of you who don’t know, the Twin Cities have a playful rivalry.) Our families and other friends have enjoyed many great times together, including storytelling of our own, in a pub that was built in our basement. During grace we would often recite an Irish saying for Vince: “May you live to be old and gray and comb the hair of your children’s children.” How we wish this would have come to fruition.

 Man of faith

A friend of the Flynns, Fr. Peter Laird (who went to college with Vince), said that there were always two things in Vinnie’s hands: his phone and his ring rosary. Father added, “One was used to communicate with people on Earth, and one was used to communicate with God in Heaven.” He then stated that a copy of the Magnificat prayer book was always near his side.

The Flynns are members of St. Joseph’s in West St. Paul. Vince was a fixture in the pews quite often for the all-school Masses on Fridays. He’d sit right in between his girls. Often, he’d discuss with family and friends what he heard in Fr. Creagan’s great homilies or those delivered by other priests.

Vince loved his Catholic faith, even though he was a Type-A and got anxious if Masses ran too long. After he was diagnosed, his family often stood in the back of church with our big clan. Often, he would help us chase around our toddling twins or just hold them in order to give us a break. That’s the kind of guy he was.

He and Lysa give generously to the church and Catholic schools. He wrote this in the acknowledgments of Kill Shot:

“To Ed Kocourek, my unofficial spiritual mentor. Thank you for pushing me when I needed it. The Adoration Chapel and St. Joseph’s has become a place of great beauty and serenity in my life. To Father John Malone, Father Peter Laird, and Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn for your prayers and guidance. I am a God-fearing soul and always have been. I choose to believe, and to all of you who have sent your prayers and well-wishes, thank you.”

Vince and his wife are very pro-life. In fact, recently he donated a dinner with himself and former NFL player, Matt Birk, for the Wakota Lifecare Center. In one of his books he bravely condemns partial-birth abortion. (See the blog) He debated this issue well in a secular context, trying to enlighten readers to the importance of respecting the unborn.

We once heard him tell someone, “If you just stepped foot into a Catholic church you wouldn’t have so much anxiety.” Because Vince embraced his faith, he didn’t have any fear about dying. But as Father Laird said at Vince’s deathbed, “He just didn’t want to go so soon.”

I will close this article with Vinnie’s favorite saying: “Keep the faith!”

We miss you already, Vinnie. Thank you for the gift of your friendship, laughter and stories.

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