As I am here at my home, I am reflecting on the fact that the month of May is upon us once again. In the era that I grew up in, and with my background and foundation of a Catholic education, I remember well that it was also a month dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God: with May altars, flowers that included lilacs in the Midwest and May Crownings and the singing of “Bring Flowers of the Rarest.” This devotion to the Mother of God was certainly present in my mother’s life. Every time we spent Sunday Mass as a family, she would always stop first in our parish Church of St. Agnes and light a votive candle and kneel down and pray at what would have been called in those days the Blessed Mother’s altar.”
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE VANN FAMILY
My birthday is close to Mother’s Day, and I always remember her saying that she was concerned that she would not be a mother by Mother’s Day! However, I seemed to remember that she related that I arrived a few hours ahead of time! Her faith, I know guided her in all the moments of her life: as a spouse, a mother, a friend to many, care for her parents in later years (my grandparents) and especially in her caring for the many mothers and babies that she took care of over the years. Her concern was always mother and baby, and if there was a serious situation to “save them both.” She earned a bachelor’s degree, and two masters degrees in maternal child health while she and dad were raising us. And my father always supported her in all of these ventures. The current situation of the value of prenatal life would dismay her and sadden her, I know. The names “Mrs. Vann or Theresa Vann” still has name recognition in Springfield after all these years. Unlike the current cultural norms that tend to bifurcate and divide ministry, she was equally concerned with mothers and prenatal life and providing a nursing education for students that could not afford it. She was fair and caring to all six of us and inspired us to high standards, as she did her students. All of us siblings still speak fondly of her when we speak and the many adventures which we all had as the “Vanns.” In the sense of reality and eternal life she is never far from any of us.
Even though Fr. Christopher Smith and I did not know each other at that time and would have been separated by geography certainly, we often reflect on both of our families, their similarities as Catholic families and what we learned from our Moms.
My mother also had a great devotion to the “Little Flower” (St. Therese), so we had her put on one of my mother’s funeral “holy cards.” She and Dad were both still living when I was appointed Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas and made many friends in my years there. If she had been living when I was appointed here, it would have been the same, I know.
When my Mom went home to the Lord in the month of June of 2012 (not long before I was appointed here), Cardinal (Francis E.) George (Archbishop of Chicago from 1997-2014) personally called me to offer his prayer and support. I remember that he told me that no woman knows a priest like his mother! How true that is, and I am grateful that my mother could share her life and faith with so many over so many years.