The first time I met Marge, I knew she wasn’t your typical 80-year-old. Like many her age, she certainly had a twinkle in her eye—but to my mind, it was her passion for mid-major college basketball that really set her apart.
Marge loved the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University—the women’s team in particular. She delighted in telling of the many times she and her husband Ward had raised the roof at Rutgers Athletic Center. And she understood—as only the fan of an underappreciated program could—why I tended to draw so much spiritual consolation from my beloved SLU Billikens whenever they succeeded on the hardcourt.
While we made our initial connection over college basketball, our friendship would eventually grow into something quite a bit more substantial: An unexpected blessing, across the generations. So I was saddened to hear this week that Marge had passed away at the age of 91. Saddened, but not surprised to hear that her death had come peacefully as she sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee over her morning meditation.
Marge called me her ‘Anam Cara’ – a soul friend, one of many that she had made in her life. And it still amazes me a bit to consider the journey that brought us together. She grew up a Jersey girl, only moving to Missouri late in life – in her late 70s – to be near one of her daughters who lives here. At the age of 88, she moved again – to Alaska, living out her final days with another daughter in Anchorage. And I always knew her to cherish the adventure of it all. She felt the heartbreak of leaving old friends behind, sure. But she went to new places fully confident that there were new friends to be made…new spiritual bonds to be forged.
And so it was that we came to meet, around 2003 or so, at St. Joe’s. While we certainly had college b-ball in common, it was Beatrice Bruteau’s book Radical Optimism that provided the initial adhesive for our friendship. Somehow, we learned that we were both reading the book at the recommendation of our associate pastor. And we both confessed that it seemed awfully confusing at times. Beatrice tended to discuss spiritual matters that were well above our paygrades.
So Marge and I formed a book club of sorts: We’d get together after Mass on Saturday mornings and read through Radical Optimism, line by line—trying to make sense of it all. When we finished that book, we moved on to others, by Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin, Kathleen Norris, Ronald Rolheiser.
Before I knew it, nearly a decade of Saturday mornings had passed – and I’d become good friends with a woman who literally talked to angels: She often told me that she knew her guardian angel by name – Rachel.
Marge’s courage and love and spirituality were quite a gift to me, as they were to many in our parish – her adopted community. I don’t doubt that her trusty guardian Rachel has already borne Marge’s soul to paradise. And I’m starting to think that maybe Rachel had a little message to deliver to me from my dear friend as well. You see, yesterday when I pulled my dog-eared copy of Radical Optimism off the shelf for the first time in years, it opened to this passage from Chapter Seven:
We need to dwell on the fact that the saints are present with us. When we speak of “the saints” we mean all holy people: angelic or human, dead or alive, of our tradition or not—all persons striving to become whole in goodness, truth and love. We have, perhaps, to some degree lost this sense of the presence of the saints, not just the canonized saints, but also the private saints of each one of us—family and friends, people we have known or heard about. These people are mystically present to us in the holy communion of saints…
Thanks for the reminder, Marge – and thanks, always, for your presence on my journey!
Let us pause now…to remember that we are in the presence of the Holy One.