Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 31, 2005
She saw roses in the thorns of life
Light One Candle
A few weeks ago, I wrote about one of our favourite Christopher principles: the idea that every person in the world has a special mission, a role to fill that is uniquely conferred by God. It's not always that easy to discern just what that mission might be, I said; sometimes it even takes a time of adversity to bring it out.
That's exactly what happened to Mary Jo Copeland of Brooklyn Center, Minn., and as soon as I saw her story I knew it would be something I would want to pass along to you. I have known about Mary Jo's work for years. Recently, I read an article about her in The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, as written by Christina Capecchi. It's a story from which we can all take a lesson.
Mary Jo has made quite a life for herself, especially in helping others. But it wasn't always that way.
As a girl attending Annunciation School in Minneapolis, she was teased unmercifully. But her torments went far beyond teasing. She came from a poor and dysfunctional family, and wasn't always clean or well dressed. Children being children, they got on her case and stayed on it.
"The kids were mean to her because she was so woebegone," said one of her classmates. "I remember seeing her on the playground and she just looked so sad."
She found an unusual and helpful way to cope with it. She rode each day to a florist shop nearby and asked for the flowers that were being thrown away. "Then she would tow them back on her bike to Annunciation," the same classmate recalled, "and put them on the Blessed Mother's altar."
All of these things happened a long time ago - Mary Jo graduated from Annunciation in 1956 - but she never forgot them, of course.
"Suffering like that, the abuse and criticism, you either become better or bitter," she said. "And so through my prayer life, I became a better person. I think God sustained me because of my trust and forgiveness."
Slowly, Mary Jo's understanding of her personal mission took shape. Just as she had been neglected and taunted, without a friend to her name, she decided to devote her life to helping others who were in the same boat - the poor and the homeless.
She founded a charity, Sharing and Caring Hands, and worked tirelessly to improve their lot. She's no stranger to municipal boards and commissions, always providing a voice on behalf of the voiceless, never forgetting the cruel childhood that had brought her to this place in her life.
Everything came full circle in October, when Mary Jo received an award from the same school which had once shunned her, and when her classmates apologized for the terrible way they had treated her.
"It put closure to a lot of things," she said. "I walked in and saw this big sign that said, 'Welcome home, Mary Jo.' It made me cry. It was just like God welcoming me back."
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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