‘You’re never too old to make a difference’


Nursing home resident helps aide find hope, stability in Catholic faith

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

FAIRFIELD — As a certified nursing assistant, Judith Skinner was used to taking care of people, not the other way around.

Judith, 35, worked at a nursing home in Fairfield when she received a call that her father, an addict who had been largely absent from her life, was dying. Resident MaryAnn Harvey could see that her caregiver was hurting and wanted to do something to help.

Judith Skinner, center, poses for a picture with her children Maggie, Moriana and Jacob, and mentor MaryAnn Harvey after the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Mary Parish in Fairfield on April 15.

MaryAnn tried to bring hope and encouragement to Judith by sharing with her the Catholic faith. “She kept bringing me books,” said Judith, who had never been part of a faith community. “I was reading one day and realized that some of it fit my life.”

Her life up to that point had been characterized by broken homes and broken trust. She spent some time in foster care as a child and moved around frequently. She thought she had found a safe haven in her high school sweetheart, whom she married shortly after graduating from high school. But, like Judith’s father, her husband became an addict. He was in and out of jail. She stood by him for as long as she could, eventually coming to the conclusion that it would be in their children’s best interest to sever ties with him and raise them on her own. She wanted to break the cycle of addiction and enablement.

Through MaryAnn’s encouragement, Judith began to wonder whether God could be that stable guide she desired for herself and three children. An Ottumwa resident, she started attending Mass at St. Patrick Parish in that city. She shared what she learned with MaryAnn.

“Every time we had these conversations, it was in the shower,” Judith said with a laugh. “It was a little awkward. But she would tell me what she got out of Mass and I would tell her what I got from it and how what was being talked about applied to my life and my children’s lives.”
Judith began to embrace the faith, and so did her children. “It makes sense,” eldest child Maggie, a high school student, told her mom.

About a year and a half after first experiencing Mass, Judith enrolled in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes at St. Mary’s in Fairfield, as it fit best with her night-shift work schedule. Maggie joined her. Judith also planned to have her younger children, Moriana and Jacob, baptized.

Before Judith could be in full communion with the church, she needed to have her marriage annulled. The process was unexpectedly therapeutic. “You have to reflect on everything from the very beginning (before marriage), to marriage, to what happened after. I reflected on where things began to go wrong; at the time, you’re in love and you don’t even see it.”

Judith and Maggie received the sacraments of initiation — baptism, confirmation and Eucharist — at St. Mary Parish-Fairfield’s Easter Vigil Mass on April 15. Moriana and Jacob were baptized into the faith. MaryAnn was there to offer support.

The family alternates between attending Mass at St. Patrick’s in Ottumwa and St. Mary’s in Fairfield. Judith said she is grateful for the positive impact the Catholic faith seems to be having on her children. She is equally grateful for the strength her faith has given her to go forward with a new perspective on life and relationships. “I really wish I would have found it sooner.”

She’s grateful to MaryAnn for taking a risk and evangelizing. “No matter how old you are, you can make a difference,” Judith said. “She got a whole family on the right path. It’s just amazing.”

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