I went into the seminary right out of high school. I had been a (proud) member of The Young Americans and had the great opportunity to sing and dance as a youth ambassador for the U.S.A. all over the world, as well as on television, (The Julie Andrews Show.) I credit this magnificent group as part of the reason I was kept free of the influence of drugs, so prevalent among other teen-agers. The other, and more important reason was that I had just acquired a deep devotion to Our Lady, through the influence of my dear sister, who introduced me to the apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Garabandal in Spain.
While in Rome I attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, (the Angelicum.) Being so close to Africa, I spent a summer in Algeria visiting a cousin, now deceased, God rest her immortal soul+ I believe her to have been a saint. She was a Little Sister of the Poor and their charism is to house, clothe and feed and nurture the poverty stricken aged. What a wonderful example she gave me! Her name was Sr. Therese Lucienne de St. Joseph and she gave everything to the Lord. She gave up America, (her order sent her to their Motherhouse in France.) She never returned to the U.S.A., but was sent to Belgium at first, then Kenya, then Algeria, where she served so unselfishly for many decades.
In the early years of seminary, we were free to go home for vacation in the summer, but most of us went on missions. Mine was to Algeria, to meet and stay with my cousin, Sr. Therese. What an eye opener that was! To see how those in third world countries lived is an enlightening experience. I was staying with missionaries who had so little, because their charges had almost nothing. What they had they gave. What they gave, they gave with joy and love. I remember visiting a long closed Cathedral, (the Muslims were just beginning their persecutions. In the end, the good sisters were forced out of the country.) In this Cathedral that was dedicated to great St. Joseph, I saw boxes and boxes and piles and piles of food and medicine and clothing that were gifts from America to the people of Algeria. They had the symbol of the arm and hand of Uncle Sam grasping in handshake the hand of the foreigner. The boxes said: “A Gift from the American People.” I was proud, (once again) of my country.
Because all mail of non Algerians was opened and scrutinized by the authorities, my cousin had to write in code to me. She called the priest the “baker,” and the church the “bakery.” Their foundation was in Annaba, which is the ancient seat of St. Agustine, (Hippone.) I was able to see the shrine to this great saint, before they had to close it and send the relic of his forearm away.
The Algerians were very proud of their country, though the war for independence with France had taken its toll. They had so few hospitals and they were in bad shape. I visited the sick and there was little to alleviate their suffering.
When I left Algeria and flew back to Marseilles, I noticed that I was the only Anglo on the plane. The flight was full of workers heading from North Africa to Europe. They were all looking at me and smiling. I didn’t know what to think. The stewardess came up to me, (I was sitting near the door hatch at the front.) She looked down at me and said, in French, “I hope you’re ready for this!” I had no idea what she was talking about! She then handed me the required landing questionnaire, which all passengers must fill out and hand in to the custom’s officer when they are processed. I took out my pen and passport and started to fill it out. Then it happened… All of a sudden I was bombarded by every migrant Algerian on that plane! None of them knew how to read or write! They were all begging me to fill out their forms, in French, of course. After a plaintive look at the stewardess, who had come back to the front of the plane, (she just smiled and put her hands up and said, “We pretend they do it themselves. They won’t be allowed in unless you do it for them. You won’t get into trouble, don’t worry.”)
It was in that moment that I was most proud and humbled and grateful for the immense privilege of being an educated American. I blessed the dear nuns of Elizabeth Bailey Seaton, who taught me to read and write and the tradition of literacy in my family that brought me to the point of being able to accomplish the task of filling out over one hundred forms on that short flight over the Mediterranean. My eyes were being opened, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, by the education of the traveler. Some things must just be experienced. No amount of arm chair traveling or reading or watching media can replace actual experience. I was and am so grateful to be an American. God bless this country. How sad I am at her fall and coming demise. It was, and still is in many ways, a beacon of light, a shining house on a hill… Can she be saved? Only God knows. Have we gone too far to come back? Only God knows. What I know is this- gratitude and concern for my nation. Let us pray. The United States is the only country in the history of the world to be consecrated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
O MARY, CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN, PRAY FOR U.S. WHO HAVE RECOURSE TO THEE!