Thanks to the Faith of the Woman Behind the Breakfast Counter

I woke up on the late side this morning and so I decided to grab my breakfast in the high school cafeteria during first period. As I waited my turn, an older woman slowly walked back and forth behind the counter, serving hungry teenagers, answering their questions, pouring their coffee. She was woefully outnumbered and it was clear the cafeteria was understaffed.

Finally, my turn came, just as two more cafeteria workers joined her behind the counter. As she prepared my eggs and sausage, I noticed a medallion pinned to her bright blue apron. When I asked her, she told me it was St. Gerard. “Is he your patron saint?” “Yes,” she said. “That is beautiful,” I told her.

Pressing further I asked: “Why is he your patron saint?”

“When I was a child I was sick and my mother gave this to me,” she answered, pouring my coffee and putting my breakfast on a tray. After I paid her, she added “He is the patron saint of mothers, too.”

I never knew anything about the short, often sad life of Saint Gerard Majella  until today. “Saint Gerard Majella is known as a Thaumaturge, a Saint who works miracles not just occasionally, but as a matter of course.” Born 50 miles south of Naples during the 18th century, he became a lay Redemptorist brother at age 23. He was falsely accused by a pregnant woman of being the father of her child. He refused to defend himself. Later, the woman admitted she had lied. St. Gerard died of tuberculosis at age 29.

As I sat at a cafeteria table eating my breakfast, I contemplated how the patient woman behind the counter has spent years asking St. Gerard to pray for her. In her role as a cafeteria worker and in mine as a teacher, we both share a kind of maternal responsibility for the dozens of children in front of us each day. I hope to God I can learn to bear the challenge as calmly as she does.

O powerful and everlasting God, Who didst endow Thy faithful Servant Saint Gerard with an invincible patience in the midst of contradictions and persecutions, slanders and infirmities, and didst thereby make him an image of Thy suffering and crucified Son; grant, we beseech Thee, that fixing our eyes on the crucifix, as he did, we may through patience, atone for our sins and prove our love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • Anonymous

    I'm struck by the fact that there are so many folks, including this woman, who quietly practice their faith, and in doing so, make a difference. I wonder if anyone had ever asked her about her medallion? I would guess not. Thanks for writing this and making me pay attention.

  • Dee

    Interesting observation Allison regarding teachers and maternal responsibilities. When I taught I often felt that I mothered my students from reminding them to do their homework, get more sleep and even wear a hat when it was snowing out. I did not know that St Gerard was the patron saint of mothers along with St Anne. Thanks for that bit of info.

  • James P McCollom, Jr.

    In popular culture, we so often hear about the evil, the bad, and the tragic. But it almost goes without saying that the person who is doing good does not call attention to herself. Therefore, we are surrounded by millions of people of faith who quietly love God. Yet these actions inspired by love are not that quiet to the people who notice. But we are called not simply to be good but also to be holy. That means that we have a desire to do good and a further desire to climb up the spiritual mountain. You can talk and you can preach but it is a lot more effective to act quietly.

  • Allison

    Jim: Yes, that is an excellent point you make. I often say that news is news because it is unusual. We don't see news stories about say, a woman such as this. She isn't calling attention to herself and yet she to me exuded patience and calm faith.

  • Jessica

    Wonderful post, Allison! Thank you!St. Gerard's story is truly fascinating. His miracles are incredible – far too many to list here. I encourage anyone who isn't familiar with his life and devotion to our Lord to read up on him! He "came into" my husband's and my life during the past few years. We'd had three terrible miscarriages in a row, and asked St. Gerard to pray with us and for us to our Savior. Lo and behold, when we became pregnant again for the fourth time, we found out that our baby's due date was St. Gerard's feast day (October 16th.) Who says the Lord doesn't have a sense of humor? :-D Our first child, our son, was born healthy and happy on October 19th after thirty hours of labor (you can bet that I was asking St. Gerard to pray with us during that ordeal.) We don't know why the Lord gave us the cross of losing our first three babies, but we are grateful to St. Gerard for his prayers and to our Savior for His love.

  • Allison

    Jessica: Thank you for sharing your story. It gave me goosebumps! I am glad you have had the companionship of St. Gerard.I understand your journey all too well: we have lost two of our four children to miscarriage and our oldest baby nearly died several times in the hospital and had to be resuscitated. He is a healthy 14 year old now.We feel blessed with our two wonderful sons, but the journey was quite painful. Blessings to you and yours.