One of the first things I thought about when I heard of the death of Sister Katherine Popowich, SSJ, was the series "My Most Unforgettable Character" that used to appear in the Reader’s Digest. I loved to read that when I was a boy. It taught me a lot about the different gifts people have, how people connect with one another and how they influence one another in lasting ways.
Katherine was among the unforgettable people I have met in my life. I first met her in January of 1981 when I went to South America to visit our Sisters of St. Joseph serving in Brazil and our Sisters of Mercy serving in Chile. She walked among the people in easy and peaceful ways. She encouraged them, advocated for them, worshipped with them. Katherine was as eager to learn from the people among whom she served as she was to share her gifts with them.
This morning (April 11) at Mass she came to mind again, so strongly that I mentioned her in my brief homily at the 6:30 Mass. The Gospel reading was the Emmaus story of the two disciples on the road who were grieving the loss of Jesus, but were still puzzling about what had happened, and wondering what the future would hold. They met Jesus, though they did not recognize him until they probed the Scriptures and broke bread together. For the two disciples it was a moment of discovery and reassurance, of consolation and challenge. Now, instead of walking away from Jerusalem in sadness, they turned back in joy to Jerusalem to share the good news.
I suppose Katherine came to my mind because she, like the Lord, met the people where they were, shared their journey, prayed and worshipped with them. It was pretty clear to me when I was in her company that the people she served learned a great deal about the Lord from Katherine. And she was kind enough to share with me on more than one occasion how profoundly the Brazilian people touched her soul and taught her more than she had known before about the Christ life. The young taught her, the ill and infirm taught her, and so did those who sought justice and a better life for the poor.
Now after nearly 50 years of service among the people with whom she enjoyed such loving and fruitful relationships, Katherine will be laid to rest among them. I can only imagine how many people who, learning of her death, had memories of her similar to my own. Surely, her family and her sisters in the congregation will miss her dearly, and in their grief will be in solidarity with her grieving Brazilian friends. That’s one of the beauties of the mission activity of our sisters for the last 50 years. They have expanded our notion of church. They have deepened our sense of the bonds that unite the human family. They have helped us to see the faces, to enter the homes of people whose life circumstances are much different than our own, and they have helped us to love them.
Katherine Popowich was among those who have done such good things for me, and so I think of her as one of the unforgettable characters I have met.
Are there such people in your life? What are their names? And what do they teach you about Easter?
Peace to all.