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Priest pays tribute to nun who demonstrated ‘ministry of presence’: NPR

Father James Martin.

Father James Martin.

James Martin./Supplied


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James Martin./Supplied

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

In 2000, Jesuit priest Reverend James Martin received devastating news: his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. One of the people who helped the family through this ordeal was Sister Janice Farnham, a professor of Church theology at Martin Seminary.

Farnham had met Martin’s father and, although they didn’t know each other well, they formed a special bond.

“She especially loved my father, who always said, ‘She’s a wonderful woman,’” Martin recalls.

Shortly before Martin’s father died, Farnham made a surprising offer.

Sister Janice Farnham.

Sister Janice Farnham.

James Martin/Supplied


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James Martin/Supplied

“Janice said to me, ‘I’d like to come visit him,’” Martin said. He knew it would take her more than five hours to make the trip and that she didn’t have a lot of money to spend.

“She has the budget of a Catholic sister, doesn’t she? They take a vow of poverty,” Martin said.

But Farnham is undeterred.

“Janice got on a train, took the train five hours to Philadelphia, took another commuter train, went to the hospital, spent time with my father, got back on the train and went home,” Martin said.

“And I thought it was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for me.”

After the visit, Martin told Farnham how much the gesture meant to him.

“And I said, you know, ‘I can’t believe you did it,'” Martin recalled. “And she said, ‘Sure. You know, why wouldn’t I want to come see your father?’

Martin’s father did not know many priests or nuns, but he had great respect for them.

“Having a Catholic sister come to visit my father was very important to him,” Martin said. “And I think that prepared him for his death.” He died… a week or two later.

Today, more than 20 years later, Martin still thinks about Farnham’s act of generosity. And now, when he learns of a baptism, a wedding, a funeral or the arrival of a dying person, he has a new rule: if he can go, he goes.

“I think it reminds us that, you know, someone said that 99 percent of life is showing up. That these gestures that we make really stick with people,” Martin said.

“Never underestimate what we call among the Jesuits the “ministry of presence”: the simple act of appearing. »

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes come out every Tuesday. To share your unsung hero’s story with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

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