By Barb Arland-Fye
Helen Angerer is one of those subscribers I love to hear from. She can’t wait for The Catholic Messenger to arrive each week in her mailbox, reads it from cover to cover and calls with feedback.
A couple of weeks before Christmas I received a call from Helen when she was in the hospital. She has multiple health problems, but the enthusiasm in her voice belied that fact. “This week’s paper was fantastic,” I recall her saying, and then she listed articles that resonated with her.
About a week ago I received another phone call from Helen, who is recuperating at The Kahl Home in Davenport and undergoing physical therapy there. She asked me to have her Catholic Messenger mailed to The Kahl Home and then proceeded to praise the nursing home. Gratitude is not a word Helen uses frequently, but a quality she exudes.
I asked Helen if I could visit her. Ostensibly, my visit was to interview her as an ambassador for The Catholic Messenger because our subscription drive officially kicks off Jan. 29-30. But that wasn’t my sole reason to visit, or even the most important one. I wanted to be a companion on the journey with a woman who has been a companion to countless others in her 83 years on earth.
“When I think of Helen, I think of love and laughter,” her friend Mickey Oliger says. “She has a great love for God and she is very devoted to her many friends. I feel very privileged to be one of them. But it is her many acts of kindness and thoughtfulness for others that she will be most remembered by.”
A graduate of Catholic schools in Muscatine, Helen entered religious life after high school with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She left the community after 13 years of ministry in various locations but never gave up her vows. She showed me the ring she still wears as a bride of Christ. She intends to be buried wearing that ring; also in the casket will be the small, slender crucifix engraved with her religious name — Sister M. Gertrude Ann. “Gertrude” was the name of the mother who gave birth to her on Sept. 11, 1927, but died two months later on All Saints Day.
Raised by her grandparents, Helen as a young child misunderstood her grandmother and thought that All Saints Day Mass was celebrated in honor of Helen’s mother. “I used to thank people for coming to Mass for my mother,” she chuckled.
Helen worked for a number of years at Kartridg Pak in Davenport, but retired at age 55 so she could devote time to taking people to medical appointments and the hospital. She celebrates life from womb to tomb. “It’s a privilege to see a baby coming into the planet and a soul going to heaven. It’s such a joy,” Helen said.
Her kidneys are failing and she has colon cancer. Before Christmas, she had four stents placed in her coronary arteries. Attending Mass daily is a great comfort. And she can’t say enough about the loving care provided by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm who minister there, and the nurses, too.
One of the Sisters asked Helen if she would like to carry the baby Jesus statue to the manger in the chapel during Christmas Eve Mass. “But I’m in a wheelchair, how can I do that?” Helen asked. The Sister told her, “I’ll push your wheelchair.” So Helen carried the baby Jesus on her lap to the manger. Her face radiates with joy as she shares that story.
Father Joe Rogers, The Kahl Home’s resident chaplain, has stopped by with spiritual reading for Helen and to chat. He gives wonderful homilies, too, she noted. “Whatever you write, don’t forget to mention the spirituality here,” she reminded me. “It’s a wonderful place.”
So, what would you like to say about The Catholic Messenger?” I asked her.
“People who don’t get it, they don’t know what they’re missing!” she answered. “This is our diocesan paper; I absolutely love it.” The proof is in the pages stacked on a chair near her bed at The Kahl Home.