Putting Jesus’ call to visit the sick into action

Catholics in the archdiocese living out a work of mercy

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

CEDAR RAPIDS — Throughout the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the people of the Archdiocese of Dubuque have taken part in designated “work weeks,” during which they’ve focused on living out a particular corporal work of mercy.

In anticipation of the “visit the sick” week planned for Oct. 9-15, many in the archdiocese have been seeking out ways to provide support and comfort to the sick and their families in their local communities.

Holly Robe, a member of St. Ludmila Parish in Cedar Rapids, has wanted to do something for the Year of Mercy since she spoke at a Christian Experience Weekend (CEW) earlier this year.

During her CEW talk, Robe shared a quote from St. Teresa of Kolkata. “Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Teresa had said. “But we can do small things with great love.” Inspired to put this quote into practice in her own life, Robe decided that during the Year of Mercy she would organize a project to help cancer patients going through chemotherapy treatment.

Robe has her own business, selling Thirty-One Gifts, a popular line of totes, purses and organizational items. She knew that by using her Thirty-One business, she might be able to make a bigger impact than if she and her family undertook a project alone. So Robe and her husband, John, and their children, Davis and Danika, organized a fundraiser, seeking out family and friends and fellow parishioners from St. Ludmila’s to purchase what they were calling “chemo care totes.”

With whatever commission was made through the purchase of the Thirty-One totes, Robe bought items to fill them – warm, fuzzy socks; activity books; coloring books; crayons; candy treats; chapstick; and encouraging notes. She also included handmade chemo hats, sewn and donated by fellow St. Ludmila parishioner, Ann Picray.

“Our initial goal was to sell 100 totes,” Robe said. “Through the extreme generosity of those around us, a grand total of 130 totes were purchased.”

She said more than half of the purchases came from parishioners of St. Ludmila’s. Many purchased totes in memory of loved ones who they had lost to cancer.

During the last week of September, 65 of the chemo care totes were delivered to cancer patients at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. The other 65 were delivered last week to patients at the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center in Cedar Rapids.

“Even though the totes are a small thing, my hope is that they give them encouragement when they are at the lowest of their low,” Robe said. “I hope the patients who receive them see there is a bigger community out there thinking of them and praying for them. I want them to know they are not alone.”

Parish aids families of sick kids

Much like Robe, Darci Wagner felt called to do something with her family for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. She and her husband, Jason, are on the social justice committee at St. Patrick Parish in Anamosa. The two helped organize a project to help the families of sick children through the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois.

The Ronald McDonald House operates a family room at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids that provides a home-like environment for the parents and siblings of children receiving medical treatment in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care unit (NICU) or pediatric unit. Volunteers are needed to help prepare meals for the families using the space.

Wagner and her husband were especially interested in helping at the Ronald McDonald room, because their oldest son had been born premature and had spent seven weeks in the NICU. The Ronald McDonald room hadn’t yet been open at St. Luke’s at that time, but the couple understands through their own experience how a space like that would be helpful to parents in a similar situation.

The Wagners and their two oldest children, Nick, 14, and Maggie, 11, signed up to prepare and serve the evening meal at the Ronald McDonald room on Sunday, Oct. 2. They left their 2-year-old son, Jonah, at home since they didn’t think he’d be able to help much with the cooking, his mother said.

The family served about 20 people.

Other parishioners from St. Patrick’s donated money toward the purchase of the groceries for the meal. And other families from the parish have expressed interest in signing up for a day to serve a meal too. Wagner hopes it will become a regular activity for the parish.

“It was good to meet with the families, to listen to them share their stories,” Wagner said of her volunteer experience. “I think it was helpful for them to have someone to talk to.”

Wagner hopes that the home-cooked meal she and her family provided gave parents at St. Luke’s one less thing to worry about while their child is hospitalized.

“Our goal was to alleviate a little stress and worry and make what they have for dinner that night something that doesn’t have to be a concern. They can instead focus on their little one,” she said. “Hopefully in some small way we helped them.”


Darci Wagner (center) and her children Nick and Maggie serve a meal for families of sick children at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids Oct. 2. (Contributed photo)

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