This last weekend, I sang at a dear friend’s memorial service. As I reflect on what MaryJo meant to me and to so many others who gathered this weekend, I wanted to take this time to share the story of a woman who truly dedicated her life to loving God by serving others. She is a shining example of faith that works.
MaryJo got a degree in special education and then traveled west to be part of the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE) where she served for two years in the Portland Community. She was the very first person I met when I arrived in Portland one year later to begin my two years of service in the Yakima Community. From the very first moments of knowing her, I was struck by her smile and amazing laugh. As I got to know her, MaryJo never ceased to amaze me with the things she could do and teach others to do too.
MaryJo taught me how to use public transit to travel around Portland that first summer, because I didn’t have a car. When everyone else headed home at the end of the summer session to catch a few weeks with family before the school year started, neither MaryJo nor I had the money to go. So MaryJo decided to take me on tours of Portland, sampling all the finer things, like every single type of fast food North Portland had to offer. It was pretty gross. She took me hiking (I’m not a real outdoorsy person), convincing me with the line “wear shoes you don’t mind getting a little damp” to describe a hike that took us through chest high water up the middle of the river. (I was about 4 inches taller than her.)
The next summer MaryJo and I were in a similar situation. All our friends had gone home to visit family and we were still in the Northwest. Somehow she convinced me that going camping for over a week in Idaho and the Glacier National Park was a great idea. I still don’t love camping, but I am so grateful for our roadtrip together. We had only a few rules- no showers, (we were young) no normal pit stops, and lots of loud singing was highly encouraged. So we stopped at the Viking Burger Bar in the middle of nowhere, camped at a site right of I-90 (with a tree! the lady told us proudly) took pictures in George Washington, home of the Martha Inn, and generally had the silliest drive ever.
MaryJo taught me to face my fears with joy and humor. Because of her I tackled things I would have never imagined I could- crossing rope bridges only strong enough to hold one, camping in the snow, relocating to the Northwest, and of course, eating food no one should eat. She never stopped loving, serving and smiling.
After her time in PACE, MaryJo joined the PeaceCorps and taught in Nicaragua, then she moved on to Catholic Relief Services, where she worked in Laos and then Afghanistan.
At the time of her passing, MaryJo had taught students in four continents and was committed to helping the girls of Afghanistan have equal access to education. She was only 33 years old when Jesus took her home. If you want to help make her dreams of a school in Afghanistan a reality, please visit the webpage CRS set up for her here.
In paradisum deducant angeli,
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
et perducant te
in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat
et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere,
aeternam habeas requiem.
May angels lead you into paradise,
martyrs receive you at your arrival
and bring you
to the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels receive you
and with Lazarus, once a pauper,
may you have eternal rest.
I hope your campsite in Heaven has a tree. 🙂 Save a pudgie pie for me.