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The Faith That Was Passed Down

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is one in a series of stories in the Year of Faith in which our readers share how they have developed in their faith over the years. We are pleased to share with you our Q&A with none other than Lois Fusco, coordinator of the Pilgrimages & Events Office of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.

Who were you greatest influences in your spiritual life?

I often refer to myself as the "miracle child" because my mother could not bear children after me. I was born two weeks early — in June, the month of the Sacred Heart — instead of July. So, I've always felt a close relationship with Jesus. In fact, until my teen years, I thought I would be a nun. I was baptized on July 26, the Feast of St. Anne, my mother's namesake and Our Blessed Lady's mother, of course. However, my relationship with Our Lady did not blossom until more recent years. My devotion to her began to deepen during an unexpected trip to Lourdes, France in 2008 — the 150th anniversary year of the Lourdes apparitions.

Many members of my family — my father, grandparents, great grandmother, great aunts — were born in Italy, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, so their faith was passed down to me. And while many people along life's path have influenced my faith, I would have to single out my mother. I remember attending kindergarten in a public school. I was not happy. I wanted to be at the Catholic grammar school down the hill from where we lived — Sacred Heart. Where else! One day, my mother took me by the hand and we walked to see the parish priest. I was left outdoors to amuse myself with the passers-by for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only 45 minutes, while my mother went into the rectory for a private conversation with the pastor. As a 5-year-old, I couldn't imagine what they had talked about for so long. All I needed to know was that I would start first grade at Sacred Heart Grammar School in the fall and be taught by the Sisters of Mercy. They lived at the end of our street. I remember spending hours at a time helping them clean their convent, praying with them in their private chapel and, occasionally, taking home a treasure, like a hand-embroidered pink cross, which today hangs on my refrigerator.

I went on to graduate with honors not only from Sacred Heart Grammar School but also Sacred Heart High School. Those were some of the happiest years of my life. Certainly, my Catholic roots were deepened by my formal education.

My faith has gotten me through life's many challenges. I often wonder how people who don't believe manage to survive the tough times.

In times of doubt, what do you do to reestablish your relationship with God?

I was well on my way to earning six figures when 9/11 occurred. It decimated the trade show industry in which I worked because the success of the industry is so closely tied to travel and, for the longest time, no one wanted to travel. But God was preparing me to take on wealth of a different kind. During my five years working in that industry, I began to question some of my friendships. That introspection led to my letting go of some friendships that had been formed long ago. As I did that, God began to place a different caliber of person in my life. Today, my friends share my faith and we support each other in difficult times. So, through prayer, trust in Jesus, and the support of friends, I have been able to get through the rough patches in life. I truly feel rich in terms of the people whom God has placed in my path.

Is there a favorite book, song, or prayer that you would like to recommend to others? If so, why that one in particular?

Anyone who knows me well knows my prayer life is a conversation with God. Except in formal settings, I don't often pray formal prayers. I prefer to talk with God, and I intentionally say "with" God because I believe He does hear our prayers and answers them — not always the way we want Him to, of course, but the way He knows is best for us. I do believe, if we listen with our hearts, prayer is a two-way conversation.

That said, however, there are times when I do use formal prayer. For example, in times of imminent danger — like when caught driving in a storm — I pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. That is such a powerful prayer. I didn't realize how powerful until I came to work for the Marians at the Shrine. One of our deacons told me to recite the Chaplet as a protection from storms. Days later, remembering his words, I began to pray, "Lord, Jesus, I offer You the Body and Blood ...". As I was saying those words, I rounded a bend and my car narrowly missed a spiked, twisted tree branch that had fallen onto the road. Praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy that night may have saved my life!

If I want a project or event to succeed, I place it under Mary's mantle. In nice weather, I walk to the Grotto here on Eden Hill and tell Our Lady my intentions. In the cold of winter, I pray in the Shrine at the side altar by a statue of Our Lady. She does not disappoint! Let everyone be aware: Mary is a powerful intercessor.

There is one small book that I particularly like — The Pieta Prayer Book. Friends introduced me to it years ago. Best of all, for those coming to Stockbridge on pilgrimage, it's available in our Divine Mercy Gift Shop (blue cover) with a large print edition (green cover) for the visually impaired. That little book contains so many wonderful prayers, I cannot single out any one.

I'm also partial to the "Irish Friendship Wish" because it was our high school principal's send-off to his graduates:

May there always be work for your hands to do; May your purse always hold a coin or two; May the sun always shine on your windowpane; May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain; May the hand of a friend always be near you; May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you. There's a wonderful sentiment behind these simple words.

There is one novena that I would be remiss if I didn't share. I've prayed it twice, and both times, my prayers were answered. The announcement in my parish bulletin, which is where I was introduced to the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, read: "This prayer has never been known to fail."

The prayer is recited 15 times each day from the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle until Christmas day. It's a simple prayer, really:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary at midnight in Bethlehem in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Steven H - Mar 22, 2013

Beautiful Testimony and Inspiring by my cousin Lois.

wolter - Mar 19, 2013

great testimony and witness to a life set apart for Him.

Joseph - Mar 9, 2013

Thanks for this great article, especially the Irish Friendship Wish, which resembles the Jewish Sabbath Prayer, spiritually lifting us to the Blessed Virgin Mary's Sabbath Prayers. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the only wound our Lord received on his body after his death,as Saint Faustyna says; from which an ocean of mercy flows down, is a treasure house of eschatology. Anyone who visited the Lourdes Grotto in France in response to the message given to Saint Bernadette (wash and come in procession)and participating in the Eucharistic Procession saying the Rosary holding lighted candles knows it is the Bethlahem of Europe. Please visit www.lourdes-france.org everyday and join with the prayers there at the comfort of your home. God bless you Marians for spreading the devotion of Divine Mercy all over the world with the blessings of our mother Mary.

Dcn. Bob - Mar 7, 2013

Great article Lois! Many Thanks for sharing. You mention The Sacred Heart, now Our Good Lord has brought you to know the debts of His Heart, The Divine Mercy at the National Shrine!

Many Thanks for sharing the beautiful prayer of St. Andrew .
I, too, have visited and have a great Love for
Our Lady of Lourdes and it will please you to know that you have a friend who was the first American to ever lead the pilgrimage at Lourdes in 1976, America's bicentinel I will share that awesome experience with you soon. The only person in front of me was the French guide, Thank God! ;-)
God's Blessings!