Maria was very young to put into kindergarten as she had just turned 5 in the summer, but it was the best thing to do with her being always at the top of her class as well as one of the tallest in her grade! When she got into high school she surprised our little Verly girl world by having a boyfriend her last couple years... and a group of some of the popular kids for friends. This was totally out of character for our shy retiring bunch for those years. Prom was a dirty word around here, Ruth went with someone and had a miserable time as as senior, and Nancy was never asked and sadly never went. Maria went with her boyfriend, who was truly a stand up and wonderful person in every way. He would go out of his way to sit with the outcasts, and truly lived his faith in action. He and Maria were very involved in youth faith groups and even started one ecumenical one called Teen talk in homes. It continues to go now in a neighboring town and is run by Fr Jeremy now. Maria really struggled making her Catholic Faith her own. I told her on the way to her confirmation that she had better not go ahead with Confirmation, because this step meant that she was saying that she would be Catholic always. She went ahead with it, but I knew that when she got away at college she would be looking for an Efree Church! Hence when we were looking for colleges and we had looked at a Lutheran private and a Catholic in St Paul...she chose the Lutheran saying that there was no difference. We strongly disagreed, and told her that if we were paying for a private education that it would be Catholic. So it was decided that she would go to St Thomas, and just at this time a wonderful new program in line with the Holy Father and The Church had begun - Catholic Studies! We thought that this would be a good fit for Maria with her hunger to discover her Faith, but when she headed off to college she was not about to admit that!
I just recalled another high school story of Maria's that is huge for our family, for me personally and for my marriage relationship to Patrick Gerard! Maria was not quite 16, and she went to the August ATEC - adults and teens encounter Christ retreat just a few weeks short of her birthday. She was the 3rd daughter and the 3rd one to make TEC - now called Together Encounter Christ. Each of the girls had gone and invited Pat and I, and the first two I just said - "I am good with my faith." Well, when Maria came home excited and invited me - I said "Yes." So during the busiest time of the year - harvest - I went to the October TEC in Winsted just an hour from the Cities. I knew that Maria was there, and the knowledge that she was so lovingly praying for me and wanting me to deepen my relationship with Christ and His Bride, The Church... well, it brought PRAYER so alive for me! Prayer became much more than just something you half-heartedly tell someone you will do for them. It is real - with each beat of my heart, and with every breath that I take - "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." And right there with every bead that passes through my fingers asking Our amazing Spiritual Mother to intercede with her Son, Jesus Christ - "Hail Mary, Full of Grace.." The power of prayer was so real and it changed me and brought me to such a place of newfound FAITH! I wept great rivers of tears every time Maria appeared - big surprise! I fell madly and forever in LOVE with Jesus, and his glorious Bride , The Church! I also discovered this most wonderful retreat as a way to share my Faith with family and friends - such an out of this world evangelization tool! I work many a year, and the prayers that came from our TEC family including our healing week of prayer for the first week of December 2009 were so much a part of John's miraculous healing! I had to take an entire year off from working my 3-4 that year in order to concentrate on John's care and healing, but we were so held up in prayer that we could feel the arms of the Lord around us - "This is the storm, and Jesus is in control." Pat followed me to TEC that winter and it has brought our marriage and shared time with the Word and prayer to a place that we had always hoped it would be! We now direct together once a year and then work other roles as needed and time allows. Patrick shows his amazing ability to serve by working the huge servant role of Gopher director! He tries to do it at least once a year if he can. Later Susan and John would attend theirs when they were 16, so this is something we truly have shared as family! Now the girls have gotten their husbands to go too! On a side note - back in high school Ruth and Paul made the same TEC retreat before they discovered that they were meant to be together. It has definitely been a powerful part of their growing relationship over the years!