I genuinely liked Mary Ann, not just loved her in the way you're obliged to love the mother of your partner for the last five years. Sure, she could talk your ear off, to the point that I'd say that it was like some kind of performance art piece on how long one could speak without stopping, admiring the way she could leap from topic to topic with breathtaking velocity like a speedboat bouncing from wave to wave. As she got older, she repeated stories, but, even there, you had to admire how she told the story the same way each time, like a well-rehearsed monologue. She had a memory for the details of life events that was sometimes eerie, but she told her tales with the alacrity of an old school raconteur.
Mary Ann, who was 77 when she died peacefully Monday morning, was as devout a Catholic as you could ever meet. She went to church, the same church in the same town for nearly her entire adult life, every week. If she had to miss, she would watch a mass on TV. She listened to the Catholic radio station, and she was active at her parish. She saw her religion not as a means to shame anyone, but as a way to voice her compassion with the world.
For instance, she supported the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the group started by nuns who were tired of the church spending so much time condemning people for being gay or having abortions and not enough time on ministering to the poor. The nuns support Obamacare and women becoming priests, as well as same sex marriage, and they were reprimanded by Pope Benedict for their refusal to adhere to papal dictates (a reprimand that was upheld by Pope Francis).
Mary Ann would shake her head and exclaim that she didn't understand how the Pope could oppose the nuns and that she was cheering them on in their mission. She believed that the church needed to get more with the times or risk fading out as a historical relic. Even in the brief time I knew her, Mary Ann's attitude forced me to modify my narrow, angry view of Catholics, to instead see a way that it could be used for good works. She was thrilled when Francis became pope, seeing in him someone who more readily aligned with how she viewed her faith. Whenever I saw her, we'd talk about how amazing it was that Francis was redirecting the energy of the church towards economic injustice.
And she walked the walk. She spent so much money on charities that she had a drawer full of blankets made by a Native American children's advocacy group. Sometimes, she'd get a call from the group just to tellvher they were saying a prayer for her, not to ask for money. (Yeah, you could say that's part of a long con, but let's put aside the cynicism for a moment.) She actually donated to the groups that sent her address labels and notepads. She gave money to every funding drive her church had, whether it was for disaster relief or renovations to the building. Her last job before retiring was supervising the kitchen and cooking food for the elderly poor at her town's senior center. One more thing I learned from her is how much you can be devoted to your town, your community. We of the wandering generations know little of that.
In other words, she was a good person in the way that not many people are good. A good soul, you might say if you're so inclined. She loved her family fiercely, especially her kids and grandkids, and she was as welcoming a presence as I could ever hope to see. As her generation passes, we need to remember the everyday, real life goodness they could bring to us.