BY TONI CASHNELLI
Outside is where he wants to be.
So on a 70-degree day in April, Br. Don Rewers asks a visitor to steer him through the sliding doors of St. Margaret Hall and onto the “front porch”, a covered walkway lined with benches.
“Let’s go out,” he says. “I miss my sun.”
There are other things Don misses, but he doesn’t dwell on them. Confined to a wheelchair by an avalanche of ailments, he has plenty of reasons to moan. An outdoor enthusiast who hiked 11,000 miles in 25 years, he was stopped in his tracks by a rare autoimmune disease that in the past decade has impacted every aspect of his health, including his ability to speak.
Above, Don Rewers outside St. Margaret Hall; right, the view from his room.
PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLI
A portrait from 2009.“My legs bother me, my arms bother me, my neck bothers me,” he says in response to a question about pain. “But I still have them. I think of amputees; they really have to adapt. I still have two eyes, two ears, a mouth that works, a nose that works.”
Those are the positives. The negatives would drive most of us into a corner where we would curl up into a ball.
Don is unable to walk, write, or feed himself. Getting into a regular car – “it’s too low” – is impossible, so he travels mainly by Ambulette or by van, if a trained professional is there to help him. Outings are downright difficult. “I had to give up going to fraternal gatherings, anything like that,” he says.
But one thing is as strong as ever: Don’s love of nature, the passion that ignited his desire to teach biology and animate other friars through his work in the Office for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. Today, in his own way, he’s still teaching – and preaching by example.
If there is one quality that adversity has developed, “It’s maybe to be more patient,” says Don, whose wheelchair is now parked in a shaft of sunlight. Speaking, like everything he does, takes effort. Recently diagnosed anemia makes him short of breath and forces him to stop for air every few sentences. Pemphigus, the autoimmune disease that blistered his skin, has also affected his tongue. Massive amounts of steroids used to treat the pemphigus weakened his muscles and led to osteoporosis and arthritis, crippling his hands. “Curvature of the neck is one of the big things I have to deal with at all times,” he says. At lunch, “I have to hold my head up [with my hand] and they feed me.”
Besides the house doctor and a GP who visits, he routinely sees a neurologist, cardiologist, dentist and podiatrist. “I had some real bad falls this winter and they’re trying to heal the wounds.” The bandages encasing his legs are changed daily.
“So far it sounds like I have a lot of health issues,” he jokes. In reality, “They seem to come one at a time so I can deal with it.” A quote connected to the suffering Job is Don’s mantra: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Lord.”
Health needs rule his schedule, but “I try to say morning and evening prayer every day, and I try to get to Mass every day. I keep up with mailings from the provincial office. I listen to public radio” for news. An avid runner before his decline, Don is outdoors whenever the weather permits – especially in spring. “Seeing things come out and back into bloom” gives him pleasure. “Right now the street is just lovely with flowering trees: magnolias and redbuds; dogwoods; flowering plum.” His favorite inside spot is near the dining room in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the courtyard with its fountain and roses. “I’m close to nature out there. It’s peaceful.”
In Don’s days in the JPIC office, “I got mainly involved with environmental causes. That was my favorite,” an interest rooted in science. His bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biology were put to use in his all-time favorite job, teaching at Roger Bacon High School. “I guess I felt it was very Franciscan before the province picked up on JPIC.”
Don is reminded that April 22 is Earth Day, an ode to environmental advocacy. “I remember when it first started and we were promoting it in the Justice and Peace Office,” he says. “It seemed so temporary; it struck me as ‘faddish’. For me, being environmental means you take for granted that you use resources properly. As individuals, we don’t need a special day” to prove we care about creation.
There are many ways to witness. Don’s quiet devotion to nature is one of them. Facing each day with acceptance and grace is another.
Given the opportunity, he says, “I probably wouldn’t change a thing in my life.”
PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLI
Don at St. Margaret Hall in 2010. He was just 67 when illness forced him into retirement in 2006.
Don enjoys a beautiful spring day.
Jeff Scheeler with Don during a Council visit to St. Margaret Hall.December.
BY MARY GILHULY
(Mary is with the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, Mich.)
April 12, 2014 my daughter got married.
April 13, 2014 my husband turned 60.
April 14, 2014 my family hosted a Passover Seder for nearly 40 people.
And on that same night, nearly 300 high school-aged girls were evacuated from their boarding school in Nigeria – not by the military as in a true emergency, but by men intent on their physical and emotional destruction.
Dozens of girls escaped in the first few hours. Two hundred and nineteen have not been seen or heard from since.
Frankly, on the surface – as a white, middle-class woman from metro Detroit – I’m not sure I’m the demographic to feel so emotionally connected to a story that is taking place over 6,000 miles from my home. But as a mother, a sister, a daughter, an artist, a peacemaker, I remain...devastated.
About two weeks after the kidnappings, which for a short time had people taking selfies holding signs that read #BringBackOurGirls, I had the opportunity to visit a well-to-do parochial girls’ high school in a lovely Detroit suburb. As the student body gathered for an assembly I couldn’t help think that here I was looking at what 300 girls really looks like. There was laughter (a LOT!) and chattering and spirit and love and silliness and caring and possibility and joy and a sense of purpose. There was a future for the girls in front of me.
Could THIS really be what the Nigerian girls had looked like the day before their kidnapping? So alive! So full of life and promise.
A week later I was to attend a mosaic portrait workshop in Lansing, Mich., hosted by a well-known mosaic artist, Carol Shelkin. In the prep e-mail she’d sent out that week we were told she would provide the imagery for the class. She felt it was important to focus on the techniques of creating these portraits; it would be less distracting if we didn’t actually know the person we were working on.
I did not hesitate, but immediately wrote and asked permission to create a portrait of an African school girl.
AP PHOTO/SCHALK VAN ZUYDAM
A South African school girl displays a poster as she and other children and religious leaders take part in a silent protest in support of the kidnapped school girls from Chibok Secondary school in Abuja, Nigeria.
I was shaking when I arrived for the two-day workshop, imagery in hand. By now, we had seen pictures on the news of the kidnapped girls – not in the brightly colored dresses and headscarves of their school and family pictures, but huddled together in dark gray fabric – covered from head to toe. Their faces were flat, dark – a sick-sad combination of terror and resignation.
“We begin with the eyes,” Carol said, “And work our way out.”
I am often emotionally connected to the art I create, the serious pieces that connect me to a group of special kids or a faith community. It helps me in the creative process to feel a spiritual bond with the eventual “home” of a given piece of art that I may spend days or weeks bringing to life. But I tell you now, the moment I finished the first eye on this portrait I have never felt so drawn in. I’ve heard writers speak of characters who “demand” to be heard in their novels – characters who take them in directions they’d never expected when they began. And now she was speaking to me.
Don’t forget me. I am here.
Like much of the art I make, she is mine – yet not mine. At the moment, she lives in the art room at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace where I work. She presides over a room that bustles with creativity and joy, camaraderie and support, learning and love and care for all. Perhaps a place like her school was on April 13, 2014.
Emem means “Peace” in the Efik language of Nigeria. I put the word in glass on the corner of her portrait and I send a breath of peace to these girls I cannot forget. I send one to their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters whose loss is more than I can imagine.
I won’t forget you. I am here.
(Mary Gilhuly oversees art programming for Song and Spirit. This story originally appeared on the Song & Spirit blog,
Last Sunday (the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday) I celebrated Eucharist with the residents and visitors at St. Margaret Hall, where 10 of our friars live. The Gospel, as you recall, was the story of Thomas, and the invitation Jesus gave him to touch his wounds to know that he was real and risen.ﾠ Almost every Sunday, a woman named Judy comes to bring her mother, a St. Margaret Hall resident,ﾠto Mass.ﾠ Sometimes her mom is a bit “out of it,” and does not understand what is going on.ﾠ Sometimes she will not open her mouth for communion; on those days, Judy sends me a signal that her mom will not be receiving communion.
Last Sunday was one of those days.ﾠ As I moved on to give communion to others, I saw Judy tenderly pull aside her mother’s hair and gently kiss her on the cheek.ﾠ It was a very “touching” experience, and I use that word deliberately in the light of the Gospel’s invitation. Judy touched and kissed the wounded Body of Christ.ﾠ Her mom may not have received sacramental communion, but she surely was given the gift of communion through her daughter’s care.ﾠ Later in the day I used that story with a couple with whom I am doing marriage preparation as a lead-in to a discussion of how physical affection can lead to spiritual communion.ﾠ I felt like I had seen “divine mercy,” and with Mary Magdalen, could say, “I have seen the risen Lord!”ﾠ May he continue to Easter in us!ﾠ Alleluia!
Loren Connell, OFMIt is a lovely spring day as I write this letter. The sun is shining, the temperature is pleasant, and daffodils are blooming outside our side window. For the first time in six years I had the opportunity to work in a yard, clearing away fallen branches, a lost newspaper, and a tossed vodka bottle. After a harsh winter, could anything be finer? Yes! It could be 10 degrees cooler, it could be raining, and southeast Michigan could be experiencing the kind of spring that it needs to have. We all enjoy pleasant weather, but in this part of the world Mother Earth needs four distinct seasons.
Climate change is a reality, and human behavior has contributed to that reality. I am not so rash as to attribute last week’s unseasonably pleasant weather to human activity, but I can ask myself how respectful I am of Mother Nature. How responsible am I in my use of water, fuel, or electricity? Do I choose cloth over paper or glass over Styrofoam? If I have to use them, do I reuse or repurpose disposable products? I am only one of seven billion inhabitants of this fragile planet. Alone, my efforts may seem insignificant; but in concert with other men and women of good will, they can begin to make a difference.
“God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:12,18,21,25). As we observe Earth Day this week, do we believe really that? If so, what are we doing about it?
Peace and every blessing,
— Loren, OFM
(The upcoming parish bulletin for St. Aloysius/St. Patrick parishes includes this message from Pastor Loren Connell.)
An Earth Day gift
from Murray Bodo
(In honor of Earth Day, Murray shared this poem from Autumn Train, his newest book of poetry from Tau Publishing.)
This spring rain stops my forward
and headlong afternoon walk
I cling to buildings beneath
eaves, run between cloudbursts till
the skies lighten and I am
standing wet and happy in
puddles, no longer eager
for exercise, the rain its
own gift enough for wellness
The heart rests, the soul expands
understands that one is not
meant to always run towards
or away, but to stop and
stand in a surprise of rain
– Murray Bodo, OFM
(Autumn Train, three years in the writing, is Murray’s eighth book of poetry since Sing Pilgrimage and Exile, published by St. Anthony Messenger Press – now Franciscan Media – in 1980. ﾠ It can be purchased at www.TauPublishing.com or at Tau Publishing / 4727 No. 12th Street / Phoenix, AZ 85014. ﾠTelephone orders: 602-625-6183.)
Al Mascia and Steve Klaper carrying on the work of Nostra Aetate.
John Joseph Gonchar, OFM
PHOTO BY DAVID HARCOURT
The promise of Easter
“It was a gorgeous evening,” Pastor Fred Link says of this year’s Easter Vigil at St. Clement Church in St. Bernard. In the photo, six parishioners are responding to Fred’s questions as part of the Renunciation of Satan and Profession of Faith. “In addition, five others, all adults, were received into Full Communion with the Church.”
2014 • Third Quarter
2014 • Fourth Quarter
2015 • First Quarter
2015 • Second Quarter
2015 • Third Quarter
2015 • Fourth Quarter
2016 • First Quarter