Tag Archives: Charity

“Angel on Ice”: The Amazing Testimony of a Figure-Skating Mom

In this post, I continue my series of “God-Encounters” – providential meetings with amazing people. This encounter happened two years ago and left a deep impression on me.

Tours of the Vatican

St Peter's at nightOne of my favorite activities here in Rome is giving tours in the Vatican. For me, it is more than a side-job – it’s a rewarding ministry: there is nothing like accompanying pilgrims as they encounter the rich artistic heritage with which the Eternal City abounds. There is something very special about watching someone walk into the Sistine Chapel for the first time and marvel at Michelangelo’s frescoes. I have found that in those moments of wonder, people are made vulnerable by beauty and become more sensitive to spiritual truths: it is a privileged moment to communicate the Gospel.

However, I have also found also that I am not always the one doing the preaching. On some occasions, the people on my tours teach me lessons more profound than anything I could ever offer. This is was the case when I met Mike and Kiara McCoy.

A Green Bay Packer and His Wife

Mike McCoy at Notre Dame Stadium [Photo: US Presswire, via Spokeo]

Mike McCoy was a star defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers. In 1970, he was drafted out of Notre Dame University, the second pick of the first round. He went on to have a successful career with the Packers, as well as with the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants, before retiring in 1980. At 6-foot-5, he still has the commanding presence that accompanied him on the field, so it was not hard to find him in St. Peter’s Square where I met him with his wife Kiara (who went by “Kia”), his son Caleb, and his two granddaughters. Caleb was pushing his mother in a wheelchair since she was suffering from cancer.

After our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, I accepted their kind invitation to join them for lunch. As I accompanied Kia to the taxi stand, I found out that she was suffering from the same rare form of cancer from which my mother was suffering: leiomyosarcoma. Kia’s had progressed so much what it was necessary to amputate part of her leg, thus confining her to a wheelchair. She knew that her time was probably limited, but she was not letting that stop her from joining her family for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe.

Amazing Faith

Kiara McCoy [Photo: angelonice.com]
Kiara McCoy [Photo: angelonice.com]

Over lunch, I had a conversation with Kia that left me inspired. When she met her husband, she was a gifted figure skater, but after their marriage she decided to hang up her skates in order to dedicate herself entirely to her children. Years later, with her children grown and out of the house, she decided to take to the rink again. She trained and trained for months, eventually going to compete in the 2012 International Adult Figure Skating Championships where she won first place in her division skating to the music of Amazing Grace.

However, not long after this amazing accomplishment she noticed an unusual lump on her leg. She went to the doctors and discovered that it was cancerous tumor.

As she shared with me the spiritual journey that began with the discovery of cancer, my admiration for her increased all more – I realized that I was not only speaking to a woman of great will power and athletic talent, but to a woman of tremendous faith.

She told me that from the very beginning of her battle with cancer she told the Lord, “Do not let me miss any blessing that can come from this illness.” She determined that she would not spend her last days wallowing in self-pity, but would actively strive to live her life to the full, loving others day-in and day-out with all of her heart. She told me that she wanted to be like Jesus at the Last Supper: even though he was approaching his death, and even though he was fully aware of that fact, he went out of his way to lovingly serve his apostles, humbling himself to the point of washing their feet.

Jesus loved his own to the end, and she wanted to do no less.

Learning from Kia

The McCoy Family
The McCoy Family

In many ways, Kia reminded me of my own mother, another woman of great faith who was courageously battling sarcoma cancer. Like my own mother, Kia exuded maternal loved and concern with everyone she met, so, even though I only spent the better part of one day with her, I felt like I had known her for much longer.

This encounter with  Kia McCoy took place at the beginning of March 2013. After exchanging contact information, we went our different ways, promising to pray for each other.

Several weeks later, on Holy Thursday, March 28, 2013, I received word that Kia had passed away that very day.

I went to the chapel to pray for the repose of her soul and was there struck my an amazing coincidence: in our conversation, Kia had told me that she wanted to live her final days the way Christ had lived his final day, and Christ had acknowledged her desire by calling her home on Holy Thursday, the memorial of the last full day before his death!

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox BrownThis coincidence touched me deeply, as did Kia’s amazing faith. Her example helped me prepare for a personal trial that would come a year later as I watched my own mother die from the same cancer. In her final weeks, I gained strength not only from my mother’s amazing faith but also from the lesson that I had learned from Kia.

I have no doubt that my mom and Kia have already connected in Heaven. I also have no doubt that both of them continue to help and guide their respective families with the maternal love and care that characterized their lives on earth.

To learn more about Kia and her inspiring life, check out the book written by her son Caleb McCoy: Angel on Ice

When Life Gives You Raw Eggs…

20091207-raweggsJust in case anyone was under any illusions, seminaries are not five-star hotels. Life in a seminary is more like living in a big family – a really big family, like a 300-person-size family. We experience many of the problems that ordinary families experience, just on a larger scale.

Family Matters

Every family has to deal with the baby who wakes up crying in the middle of the night; we have to deal with the brothers who get back late and wake up half the dorm as they get ready for bed.

Every family goes through at least one flu or cold epidemic each year; we have to deal with the same thing, although ours reach such proportions that we refer to them as “plagues”. (Last winter, so many brothers were sick at one point that they had to bring carts and carts of food to the dorms just to feed all those who were bedridden).

Every family experiences cooking fiascoes now and again; we2010-06-09-disaster_chicken experience them just about every week. This is bound to happen when you put a group of young men with limited cooking capacity in a kitchen and tell them to prepare industrial-size quantities of food.

I will never forget the time in my novitiate when we tragically ruined our Easter Sunday lunch. My very foodie aunt was so horrified when she heard about such a waste of good lamb, that she bought us a huge Betty Crocker cookbook in the hopes that it would counter our culinary ineptitude. Thankfully, I have not seen any disasters quite so drastic since.

“Raw-Boiled Eggs”

Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, and young men being who they are, cooking fiascos still occur, the most common being the infamous “raw-boiled egg”. This is how it happens: every week we switch kitchen responsibilities, so every Monday there is a new team of confreres preparing breakfast. Often, the brother in charge of putting the eggs in the steamer is one who has never done it before, so either he does not know how long to keep them in, or he forgets to allow it to heat up long enough before using it. Whatever the case, he only has thirty minutes to get everything ready, so if he messes up, he does not have much time to recover.

Community mass usually ends at 7:20 am, at which time the silent, hungry herd of black-robed seminarians makes its way to the dining room, inwardly giving thanks to God for the mass that has just ended, but also eagerly anticipating breakfast. Each brother sits at his habitual place, places his cloth napkin on his lap, pours a cup of strong Italian coffee, reaches for the eggs or bread, and begins to consume with impressive efficiency.

Before cracking open my egg, I always look up at the microwave. If a14512 long line of brothers is beginning to form, I know that the egg is raw: those brothers have gone to make up with radiation what the brother-in-charge failed to do with steam.

I have to admit that there are few things more annoying than getting a raw-boiled egg on a Monday morning, but I have learned to cope. As the old saying goes, “When life gives you a sack of lemons, make lemonade.” Well, when life gives me raw eggs, I fry them! Instead of lamenting, I take a couple of the eggs to the kitchen, grab a frying pan, and prepare some nice sunny-side-ups.

Cooking taco meat with Br. Jefferson. (Thankfully, this meal turned out fine!)
Cooking taco meat with Br. Jefferson. (Thankfully, this meal turned out fine!)

Living with People

Part of living with other people is living with their imperfections, and the challenge  of family life is learning how to tolerate those imperfections with good-humor and optimism. If we allow the negative things to absorb us, we will never allow ourselves to fully appreciate and love the people we live with.

I am blessed to live with awesome people. Sure, we all have our quirks and problems, but it is truly marvelous to live with other young men who are just as excited about spreading the Word and bringing God’s love to the world.

With some of my confreres on a weekend outing. (Six different nationalities are represented in this photo: Mexico, Brazil, USA, Argentina, Venezuela, and Uganda.)

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers [and families!] dwell together as one!… It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion. There the LORD commanded a blessing, life for evermore.

– Psalm 133:1 – 2