“SAINTS” VERONICA AND ME

I have known of three persons named Veronica in my lifetime. The first of course, is St Veronica from some of the earliest Sacred Tradition of the Church. Veronica is the woman who, during the Lord’s Passion and death, came and wiped His face to relieve His suffering, and the face of our Lord Jesus Christ was imprinted on the cloth she used. A fanciful story, you may say. I do not know. The evidence of her existence, as well as the authenticity of the cloth used, are fairly compelling and go to the earliest Christians, at least in some format or another. The cloth closely matches the better-known Shroud of Turin, which is believed by many to be the burial cloth of Christ. But that there was a woman who we now know as Veronica, one who comforted the Lord in some manner during this terrible ordeal, is fairly evident, and she is a canonized Saint within the Western Church.

For a much fuller treatment of St Veronica, please check out this link: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1953

The most current Veronica in my life is a lovely woman from Colombia who, like me, is a Roman Catholic Christian, and an immigrant to this nation. She is one of the therapists at the hospital where I am employed, and she became a United States citizen within the last year or thereabouts. This “Saint Veronica” cares enough about me to tell me to “sit up straight” when she walks by my office several times a week. She does not do so to hassle me—she knows I have some lower back disc degeneration and is attempting to keep me healthy when I forget. I believe, in a very real way, it is her manner of “wiping the face of Jesus.” And I fully expect, one day, she too will be a saint, whether officially canonized or not.

The third Veronica, however, is the one I plan to spend most of this post on. She was my mother’s oldest sister, and lived with our family during the last two years of her life (today, incidentally, is the 44th anniversary of her funeral, as she passed away on July 23, 1968 and her funeral Mass and Christian burial was on July 26).

I was born late in December of 1955 (Christmas Day to be exact) and “born anew through baptism” into Christ and the Church on the very last day of that same year. Most of my growing up then was in the 1960s and middle 70’s, and in 1966, just 2 years after her husband Howard, a lifelong farmer, had suddenly passed away, her life too was thrown into an upheaval by the discovery of a malignant lump on her right breast. Looking back, I cannot really imagine what all of this did to her. She and Howard had a simple but decent life, owned a farm with no payments due, for whatever reason had not been able to bear children, and suddenly my 56-year-old aunt was becoming progressively ill and needed increasing assistance and care. Did I mention that I am 56 by the way? I was, however, 10 years old at the time when “Aunt Vernie” came to live with us. I had known her all of my life but never really knew her, and was quite unaware that we would become fast friends from that moment until her death in 1968, after becoming 59 just one month earlier.

Left to Right: My uncle James (Jimmy Norton), who was my mother’s twin brother, my uncle Howard Jewison, and Veronica Jewison—not sure whose hat she is holding!!! Howard was, incidentally, distantly related to the well-known movie director Norman Jewison, who gave us such movies as “In the Heat of the Night,” “Moonstruck,” and many more. The Jewisons and Nortons (my mother’s maiden name as well of course as Vernie’s) intermarried on several occasions, meaning I am likely related to the more famous Jewison as well. Again, very distantly.

English: Director Norman Jewison at TIFF Bell ...
English: Director Norman Jewison at TIFF Bell Lightbox for “Norman Jewison and Friends with Moonstruck”. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking back I imagine that there were many reasons why she and I connected so well. In a sense we were both outsiders to the family structure, me, as the youngest of 8 and with 3 sisters in between me and my next older brother, was never overly close with him or my dad back then, and my sisters all hung out together or did various activities more to their interests, leaving me to be somewhat of a loner. I was also not one who exactly “fit in” with the other boys at school (which is material for another post) but was somewhat more reticent, preferring reading to baseball, and was even then becoming devoted to the Church—having had 4 years as an altar server and often bicycling down to the local parish just to pray, read, or meditate on my own, sometimes for hours at a time. It just felt like home and a place where I wished to spend my time. Having been a farm wife for many years but with no children, I think I also perhaps met a need in her life to be a substitute son in certain ways as well. I soon learned that she loved to cook, and she taught me the fine art of making such delicacies as Divinity and fudge, something I still can do quite well to this day. It was definitely not something every 5th or 6th grader, particularly males, were encouraged to pursue in the late 1960s, and I became quite proud of my accomplishments as a result. And a better person for it.

The thing I remember most, however, is that Vernie always had time. Pretty much every single day after school I would go to her room and we would talk about anything and everything. Not much was off-limits, either. One time she even showed me her scar from her total mastectomy. I think, had my mother known that, she probably would have been a bit shocked, but to Vernie it was a natural part of her life and something she had learned to live with daily. Nothing evil was meant by it nor came from it. She was just, I think, allowing me into a very intimate part of her world. Quite a privilege for a child.

Two very good friends…

It was also right around this time that my mother began seriously questioning, and rather loudly, the teachings of the Church she had carefully raised us in, as well as leading my father into at the time of their marriage. My mother was always a godly Christian woman and was not doing so with evil intent, but I know it was terribly upsetting to me at the time. I question at times what direction my life might have gone in if my mother had only been able to find other ways to deal with her doubts and confusion, but she encouraged me to quit being an altar server (something I truly loved to do) and began, at least on occasion, taking me along to some of the “other” churches she was visiting, as well as my 2 next older sisters. But it was what it was.

It is strange what we know as children and forget as adults, because I recall hating those excursions—I already had the Truth of the Faith and wanted to stay with what I had. I have wondered many times what Vernie must have thought when my mother did this, but, at least to my knowledge, she never said a harsh or judging word about it to her. What she did, however, was far more powerful. She prayed. And I do not mean “Now I lay me down to sleep” either. Here was a woman often in pain, frequently on bed rest and obviously realizing, though it was never spoken out loud, that her cancer was quickly becoming terminal. It had spread by then to her back and spinal area, literally eating out a vertebrae, and she could not stand or walk without wearing a special brace. Cancer is so insidious. One day her right arm simply snapped in two—with no warning whatsoever. She had done nothing to it; a tumor simply had eaten through the bone and separated it. Rather than giving up, she then taught herself to write with her left hand, and yet maintained her lovely handwriting in the process.

And while she had always been a committed Catholic, it was during that time that her saintly side began to blossom and grow. One day I vividly remember her saying “Well I prayed 14 rosaries today.” 14!!! I thought getting through one was the equivalent of at least 100 years of Purgatory personally. And that daily rosary or numerous rosaries as it were, as well as her Bible reading and weekly Eucharist with our local priest sustained her.

She simply never griped or complained. Never. Nor did she bicker with anyone or argue either. She would get up and watch the afternoon matinée movie on television when up to it, cook tasty stuff on her good days, and rest on the others. Incidentally, even with all of the “goodies” she knew how to create, she would not allow me or the rest of us naturally greedy kids to eat them in front of my mother, who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes (something later to become rampant in our family). She just did not want her younger sister to feel badly while the rest of us indulged. Her presence enriched our family, and particularly my life for these and many other reasons.

I still have and own the two Bibles she had used and read during that time, as well as her copy of “The Imitation of Christ.” I am finally at a place in my life where I can say that I love to pray the Rosary too. And I am firmly convinced that I am a “catholic Christian” today, probably more than any other reason, due to the many days when she prayed those multiple rosaries. It never occurred to me then to even thank her. But she and one other person were the ones who prayed me back to the Church, of that I am convinced.

In those days it was customary to go and buy a nice looking outfit, suit or new dress for deceased friends or relatives to be buried in. I however convinced my mother to bury her in an absolutely lovely blue checkered suit which she had bought just before getting sick and was only able to wear either once or twice ever. I knew she loved that suit and skirt and was so very proud of it. It was a lighter, almost a sky blue color, and had black lines going in both directions, making it look like small squares all over. It was elegant and nothing that this farm wife aunt of mine had ever owned, nor would she again. My mother agreed and the last time I saw that suit was on her, as she lay peacefully in her casket. Well, I should say, next-to-the last…

Something I did not mention was that, due to her spinal tumor, she could sit down but not get back up by herself. To compensate she sat, most of the time, on a taller kitchen stool which she could get up from, or else on the arm of the sofa as pictured above. On very special occasions she would be seated directly on the sofa with the rest of us, but it then took two of us to assist her in once again arising, and even then it was painful for her. Around two weeks after she died, I had the single most vivid dream of my life. She was standing up, talking to me excitedly, and very clearly wearing that lovely suit. She said to me “Come over here I want to show you something.” And with that she walked briskly across the room, sat down on a very low sofa/couch, and nearly bounded up from it at top speed and with little or no effort. Then she said to me these words—”See, now I can do it all by myself.” It was at that moment I knew heaven was real, and that she was there. 44 years have passed, and I cannot tell this story or even type it without the tears beginning to stream. And, while never canonized, I have rested ever since in the assurance that heaven is real, God is true, and that she will be waiting for me, should I make it myself—and I plan to. The original St Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with her veil. Veronica Norton Jewison, my aunt extraordinaire and spiritual companion through the decades even since she has passed, was used by Our Lord Jesus Christ to wash my heart with her prayers and Rosaries. And, though I still rebel, kick and scream, I know her prayers still sustain me from heaven. And, while many others have prayed for me and counseled me over the years, I believe that her patronage was the unseen (and until now unspoken) ingredient in my path back to Rome. And home. Pray for us all, Veronica Jewison. Oh, and thanks Aunt Vernie. So very, very much.

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6 thoughts on ““SAINTS” VERONICA AND ME

  1. Pingback: “MUSINGS” REDUX–and this time I name names… | catholicboyrichard

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  3. nana1954

    Beautiful, Richard! I know your St. Veronica is praying alongside my two saints — my beloved Uncle Ken who died last August 3rd on his 81st birthday (and converted to Catholicism, btw), and my beloved minister who died last 9/11 from ovarian cancer, just a month after her 58th birthday. When the priest gave Ken last rites, he told the family that dying on his birthday would be a good day for him to be born into Jesus’ arms. When Rev. Marti died on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it was not only a good day to be born into Jesus’ arms but the arms of the thousands of people who perished on that horrendous day as they needed her to shepherd them. Marti was with our congregation only two years, and sick most of that time but never allowing her illness to slow her down. She often said that she felt she was brought to our congregation to teach us how to die. From your story, I think your Aunt Veronica might have done the same for your family. Dying with dignity and grace and love.

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