Equality and social justice themes inspire Aurora’s Missionaries of the Sacred Heart to present “Gentle Spirit, Memoirs by Marie Wilkinson” to Pope Francis at their gathering in Rome. Compiled by local author Kathleen Snow, a labor of love in honor of our friend Marie.ORDER MARIE'S BOOK TODAY!
Article by Denise Crosby, for Aurora Beacon News
Published September 29, 2017
If anyone’s life story deserves to be in the hands of His Holiness, it should be Aurora’s matriarch, Marie Wilkinson.
Which is exactly what took place Sept. 16 when the Rev. Michael Miller, pastor of St. Therese Catholic Church in Aurora, handed a copy of “Gentle Spirit … Memoirs by Marie Wilkinson” to Pope Francis in Rome.
The book, decades in the making and compiled by Marie’s long-time friend Kathleen Snow, was released in June in recognition of the 60th anniversary of the food pantry Wilkinson founded that still bears her name.
That her memoir found its way into the hands of Pope Francis only four months after it was published is a story in itself, which starts with the Rev. Joseph Jablonski of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
Snow, who works part time for this Catholic missionary order’s national headquarters in Aurora, says the priest was so impressed with the book — a collection of Marie’s stories as well as recollections of the many she inspired in her 101 years of life — he recommended it to his brother John Jablonski, a Realtor in Ohio who, after reading it, strongly suggested “Gentle Spirit” needs to get to the pope.
With good reason. Anyone who knows anything about Marie and her lifetime of helping this community’s poorest and most vulnerable knows she and the Catholic Church’s current leader truly are on the same page when it comes to fighting for equality and social justice. Among the dozens of distinguished honors she received in her lifetime, Marie Wilkinson was named National Catholic Woman of the Year in 1959 and received the Lumen Christi Award, the church’s highest honor for a layperson.
At the urging of the Jablonskis, said Snow, she asked Miller, who also belongs to the missionary order, to try and get it to the pope while he was attending the General Chapter meeting, which occurs every six years in Rome to elect a new Father General.
Miller has never had a chance to shake hands with a pope before, much less hand one a gift. And this was the first time in 50 years, he said, the missionaries were given this up close and personal audience with a pontiff.
So it’s understandable Miller was a tad bit nervous when, in Spanish, he tried to get across to Pope Francis that this book was about a “very special local woman from Aurora who has done great service in our city; a faithful and devoted Catholic who lived the Gospel’s message of serving the poor.”
The pope, Miller said, responded with “Gracias … thank you.” And, he added, “it was all over in the flash of a camera.”
But talk about a picture worth a thousand words.
When the photo of Pope Francis receiving the book, smiling as his eyes locked on its cover, landed last week on Snow’s desk, she could hardly believe what she was seeing.
“What a gift,” she said. “I think it is amazing what God can accomplish when we turn it over to Him and his friends.”
Diane Renner, executive director of The Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry, was equally elated.
“Kathy Snow has been nothing but priceless through this whole thing,” said Renner of the author who has donated all her time to the book. “And when I saw the picture, I knew it was priceless, as well.”
Miller says he’s not sure if Pope Francis will get a chance to read “Gentle Spirit,” considering his schedule.
“But I do know he’s a speed reader, and I have no doubt he will at least flip through the pages” … and realize how Marie “was the initial social services of Aurora, way before St. Vincent De Paul or Catholic Charities or Hesed House or the Salvation Army.”
Although it’s unlikely Marie will ever be canonized because of the process it entails, he added, “she really is a saint.”
Which is why, insist her biggest fans, now that Pope Francis has added the book to his library, it’s time for local folks to do the same.
“Every church,” said Renner, “should be promoting this to their congregation.”
By the way, all donations from the sale go toward projects to keep Marie’s legacy alive. The book can be purchased for $15 at the food pantry, the downtown Aurora library, at the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and at the Aurora Historical Society and David L. Pierce Art and History Center in downtown Aurora. It can be ordered, for $20, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 630-801-4183. Checks should be made out to the Marie Wilkinson Legacy Fund at the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley/Marie Wilkinson Legacy Fund.
“We still feel Marie with us every day,” said Renner, noting that last week, when the pantry shelves containing canned meat and peanut butter were bare, quite unexpectedly people started bringing in boxes of both needed items.
Just as Marie’s spirit helped fill the pantry again, she’s convinced Aurora’s Mother also had something to do with “Gentle Spirit” landing in the pope’s hands.
“Her little angels,” she said, “are still here.”ORDER MARIE'S BOOK TODAY!