Persons , places and things: Ordinary saints


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Retired Pope Benedict XVI once observed that the feast of All Saints celebrates holy men and women — canonized or not — who carried out God’s will and made Christ present in their lives.


As we approach the feasts of All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov.2), I’ve been thinking about women and men whose lives intersected with mine and how they exemplified the qualities of saints.

Karen Cossman and I met years ago in a social setting, when I was a cub reporter in Clinton. She had been paralyzed in a car accident as a young woman. From the beginning she struck me as a grace-filled, faith-filled woman with a sense of humor who carried her cross with dignity and without complaint. She moved into a nursing home a few years ago. Just 62 when she died last month, her focus always seemed to be on the fulfilling activities in which she was engaged, including Bible study.


Our mutual friend, Nancy Trottier, posted a moving tribute on Facebook to Karen, who had taught art at what is now Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton. In part, Nancy wrote of her best friend: “Karen had a love of life and creativity that was second to none. She was wonderful at inspiring her students to look outside the box, to grow their artistic practice by looking at the work of other artists…. When my sister died, she was there for me every moment. She would not let me be alone if I was having a bad day. When Kent (Nancy’s late husband) died, she was incredibly supportive to me, and to the girls.”

When I learned of Karen’s death I thought: an angel has been given her wings.

John Kiley served as director of Social Action for the Diocese of Davenport for just 18 months before he died in 2009 at age 58. He made a lasting impression on everyone whose path he crossed. Retired Bishop Martin Amos said of John, “I have never met anybody who lived morefully the passage in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me….’ John extended that to everybody around him. He always seemed sensitive to what anybody needed or wanted.” John had a great sense of humor, liked to clown around in a red smoking jacket and enjoyed socializing. He’s my kind of saint!

One of John’s heroes, Msgr. Marvin Mottet, the Davenport Diocese’s first Social Action director, is another saint, in my mind. As a child, he witnessed his parents’ compassion toward anyone in need and lived what he learned. He honed his social justice skills at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, as a priest and teacher in the Davenport Diocese and as a leader of the National Campaign for Human Development in Washington, D.C.

The Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors presented its Servant of Justice Award to Msgr. Mottet. The organization recognized him for advancing social justice and dignity for all members of society through the tradition of Catholic social teaching. The association noted that “Msgr. Mottet continues to put into practice the Gospel’s preferential option for the poor as an advocate and an example.” Like other ordinary saints, Msgr. Mottet, who died in 2016 at age 86, had challenges. He was restless living in a nursing home at the end of his life, still wanting to be out in the community advocating for social justice. His legacy lives on in the Mottet Leadership Institute, a training institute to engage adults of all ages in the work of social justice.

Other women and men have set an example for me. Their “sainthood” may be known only to God, but they have left an indelible impression on those of us who remain on earth.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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