By: Diana Olson
On Tuesday, April 1, we were all gathered at our weekly staff meeting. Mother Provincial Maria Christine was in town and was sitting in on the meeting. Mother Marguerite began the meeting by asking us to pray for Bishop Andrew McDonald, who was near death. She asked for our prayers, that if it be God’s Will, the Little Sisters could be present with the Bishop when the Lord called him home.
As with every Resident nearing death, several Little Sisters had been keeping vigil with the Bishop so that he would not be alone. Mother’s hope was that all the Little Sisters could accompany the Bishop when the Lord called him home. As soon as she finished, all of the Sister’s pagers went off, calling them to Bishop’s room. The lay staff moved out of the way so the Little Sisters could hurry along. As she was leaving, Mother Provincial encouraged everyone, “Come with us, we are all his friends”. Before I knew it I was running up the stairs to the second floor. Having second thoughts I hesitated, I felt a hand on my back and a voice telling me to hurry
As we rushed into the Bishops’ room, I was pushed to the far corner on the side of his bed. I helped move some of the furniture out of the way to make room for others. I knelt down with the little Sisters as we prayed. I was trembling and I remember thinking, “Why am I trembling?” In hindsight, I realize that it was probably the Holy Spirit, as I was about to witness a holy transition. Some of the Little Sisters were holding Bishop’s hand, others lovingly stroking his arm or his cheek.
I was holding the hand of my own father and grandfather as they left this world to be with our Lord. Both were extraordinary touching moments that I will never forget. Just like this moment, both times I also felt the strong presence of the Holy Spirit.
Working in the Development Office, I have never been with the Little Sisters when one of our Residents has passed away. As I have gotten to know and befriend many Residents, I have held many hands and sat praying quietly with them as they were close to death, but this was the first time the Lord allowed me to witness this holy beauty.
When Bishop McDonald celebrated Mass at St. Joseph’ s Home, if there was not an organist, he would end the Mass by leading the congregation in singing “Immaculate Mary.” The chills began to run up my spine when the Little Sisters starting singing it at his bedside. Suddenly, aware of the loud chorus of singing, I looked around to see not only Little Sisters, but Residents (some in wheelchairs and on walkers), and staff filling the room and spilling into the hallway.
As Bishop’s breathing slowed, I remembered a phrase in Latin that he would often use in his homily – “Ad Jesum per Mariam” – to Jesus through Mary. While we sang, “Ave, ave, ave, Maria,“, surrounded by his friends and flock, whom he had shepherded for the last 12 years, the final breath left His Excellency, Bishop Andrew Joseph McDonald. In the midst of a heaviness of peaceful calm that blanketed the room, tears freely flowed as bittersweet emotions swirled within us.
I had just witnessed and been a part of the summit of the Little Sister’s apostolate – the loving care, with dignity and respect, of the dying Elderly. In my role of Development Director, I had been writing about their ministry for years. The Lord finally allowed me to live it. I was so grateful for the privilege of praying for our dear Bishop, as he had done innumerable times for us, in the last moments of his earthly journey. I was confident that he went straight into the arms of Mother Mary, whom he loved so deeply, and she took him directly to her Son, Jesus.