From refugee to rest: How a Mary statue inspired Missionary Discipleship
By Lois Heron
In Sacred Scripture, we have the account of the Lord calling Moses to be his servant to the captive Israelites in Exodus. Moses doubted, unsure of his abilities. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘What is in your hand?’ ‘A staff,’ he answered” (Ex 4:2). Moses offered it to the Lord, and then the Lord could use Moses’ willingness to be his man for that time in history to bring relief to the captive Israelites.
The Lord works in our lives when we offer up the gifts and abilities he blessed us with for his use. He just needs willing servants. The following story is about a few willing servants who responded to a need with what was “in their hands.” Isn’t that what it takes to be a missionary disciple?
Our Lady the refugee
Tony Kayser’s willingness to follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership in his vocation as a financial adviser has provided many moments when the Lord used what was in his hand to be his missionary disciple. Cathy Wuebben had to make some financial decisions as she approached retirement, and, as her financial adviser, Tony was there to help. But the story actually begins years before this in a small cemetery in Iowa.
A statue of our Blessed Mother was the last of three statues left standing at the turn of the 20th century from a Calvary scene in the Holy Name Cemetery of Rock Rapids, Iowa. A request was placed in the town’s parish bulletin asking for someone to protect the statue from further erosion. A couple responded to the need and willingly stored the statue in their barn.
A long time passed, and when the time came that the elderly couple could no longer protect the 400-pound statue, Cathy offered to be its next protector. Cathy revered that particular image of our Blessed Mother because of the May crowning of Mary every year. The Catholic school students would walk to the cemetery and crown the statue with a garland assembled from the flowers they had gathered; that tradition left an impression on her.
She didn’t know what she would do with the statue, but she knew it would somehow survive to inspire another generation’s gratitude for Mary’s love for the Church.
The statue became a refugee of sorts during Cathy’s eight moves. She faithfully moved the figure of our Blessed Mother into new storage units, but the time came for Cathy to be free from the nearly $80 a month she paid for the storage of the statue.
When Tony offered to help relieve Cathy’s financial burden by taking the statue, he became the next protector of the crumbling refugee. He asked the Holy Spirit to give him direction for finding a final resting place for the statue, but it needed restoration before Cathy and Tony’s desires could be accomplished.
Tony reached out to a friend, Sara Beaner who is a restoration artist, and asked if she was willing to take on the project. Sara’s desire to serve the Lord with what is in her hands—a few tools of the trade—expresses her great love for the Lord and the Church.
Restored in faith
Sara, an unwanted child of a broken home, longed for stability and love. She found what she longed for in the Catholic Church through the influence of the life of St. John Paul II. A young man named Tim (now her husband) assisted her in her journey by taking her to RCIA and sponsoring her when she was confirmed 35 years ago. Sara readily asserts that the path to healing the brokenness of her life opened with her entrance to the Church.
Her restoration, in part, has been through the paintbrush in her hand. “Jesus repairs my soul as I repair the icons of our faith.”
The brokenness of the statue she received from Tony was yet another grace God gave to her. As is her habit, after she received the project, Sara took it before Jesus in adoration. She asked Jesus to guide her hands as she worked.
She stood in her studio one morning, contemplating what was before her, and she prayed, “Jesus, your Mother suffered with you, and she suffers with us. Please use my ability to restore this statue of her. May her image bring hope to the hopeless.”
She started praying the Rosary (she painted a large one on her wall to pray with while her hands tended to the work of restoration). Sara struggled because she did not know which Mary (of the many titles we use to refer to her) the statue represented. Our Lady of Hope? Our Lady of Sorrows? She wept as she prayed and worked, and peace finally came.
“I entrusted myself to Jesus’ love and mercy to guide my hands,” Sara said. It would take months before the image was complete.
Meanwhile, Tony began his search for a final place for the statue to stand. Tony grew up on a farm near Alexandria, South Dakota. Some of his brothers and sisters remained in the area, farming land nearby. The family supports the Carmelite Monastery of Our Mother of Mercy and St. Joseph with their care for the practical maintenance of the grounds and building. Tony supports the monastery in various ways and maintains a relationship with the sisters.
It occurred to him in prayer one day that perhaps the restored statue should go there. Tony’s a man of action; no grass grew under his feet as he pursued the last step of the journey for the refugee statue.
Refugee no longer
The cloistered sisters of the Carmelite Order follow St. Therese of Lisieux’s example to “pump the blood of the Lamb” to the Mystical Body of Christ in the Church through prayer and intercession, especially for priests. They offer themselves as conduits of healing for the outside world through perpetual adoration of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament.
The sister’s missionary discipleship is hidden yet vital to the health of the Church. They serve the Lord by living a life of sacrifices of penance for the Church. In reality, they do not have anything in their hands; they live a life of poverty, but because of their voluntary poverty and perpetual attention to Christ’s desire for his Church, they can pray without the distractions of life outside the monastery.
Mother Mary Baptist, the current prioress of the monastery, was already acquainted with the Kayser family’s “sweet attention” to the monastery, so when Tony presented her with his desire, she said yes.
July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, is a day of celebration in the Carmelite orders. July 16, 2022, would be a particularly memorable celebration at Our Mother of Mercy and St. Joseph Monastery. It was a rainy day, but that didn’t hinder the long-awaited dedication of the restored image of Mary.
Tony and his brothers had carefully placed the 400-pound image in its final resting place—the refugee statue finally had a place of repose. She now stands in a prominent place within the monastery garden to remind all pilgrims that Mary is Our Mother of Mercy. She is Our Lady of Help. She is Our Lady of Sorrows. She is Our Lady of Refuge.
This story is more than how a financial adviser, a woman in need, and a gifted artist worked together to honor the memory of our Blessed Mother. And yes, it is even more than the Carmelite sisters’ life of penance and prayer for the Church. It’s a story about how we live day in and day out following the example of Mary’s life in loving Jesus Christ. It’s a story about how we become missionary disciples in our corners of the world to make that love visible by using what we hold in our hands.
Friend, what is in your hand? Do you feel like you are on the backside of the desert, used up and incapable of being a Moses? Perhaps, you, like Mary, live a life of simple obedience to God, wondering how it can be that the Lord God would choose you to do anything. Their responses to God’s call are quite different but worth noting as we consider how we can be missionary disciples of Christ.
If you read a little further in Exodus 4, you discover that Moses continues to banter with the Lord about his abilities. The Lord finally responded to Moses about what we may need to hear, “The Lord said to him: Who gives one person speech? Who makes another mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will assist you in speaking and teach you what you are to say” (Ex 4:11-12).
In chapter 1 of St. Luke’s Gospel, the Lord sent the Archangel Gabriel as his messenger to the unassuming daughter of Anne and Joachim. “‘Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God’ … ‘The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you … for nothing will be impossible for God.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word’” (Lk 1:28-30, 35, 37-38).
Friend, here’s the truth about us: God created us in his image to reflect his image to others. The way we love, and the gifts and talents we are given, are how we reflect his image through us. All he needs is our “yes.”
Let’s recall the words of St. John Henry Newman as we consider what type of missionary disciple we will be for Jesus.
“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. …I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
“He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
“Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. … He does nothing in vain; … He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me—still He knows what He is about.”