Gratitude is the memory of the heart

Fr. Frank O’Kelly was ordained a Columban in 1960. Retired and living in Ireland, he recalls an elderly apostolic worker who travelled a distance by bus to drop off a weighty donation of coins. This article first appeared in the December 2021 issue of the Far East magazine.

It was a bleak Sunday afternoon. I was out walking in front of the college in Dalgan Park. Suddenly I saw a woman wheeling a small suitcase down the avenue heading for the front door. When she reached the college, I noticed that she was unsure what to do. So, I went over to her and asked if I could help. She told me she was looking for Fr. Peter O’Neill to give him some coins that were in the suitcase. I asked the lady where she had come from. “Dublin,” she replied.

I said to her to follow myself and opened the front door. The receptionist, Claire, was in the office and so I explained to her, “This lady is looking for Fr. Peter as she wishes to give him some money for the Society.” Claire said she would try to get in touch with Fr. Peter.

While Claire was busy contacting Fr. Peter, I suggested to the lady that we would bring the suitcase into the office and deposit the money on the table, and afterwards have a cup of tea. She agreed. When I opened the suitcase, I saw inside three large bags filled with coins. I struggled to place them on the table. They were very heavy.

In the dining room, we sat down and had tea together. She told me that the coins did not belong to her but to a friend whose brother was a priest and he had left the coins to her when he died. She wished to donate them to the Columban Fathers and had asked my visitor to bring them to Dalgan as she herself was unable to travel.

I asked the lady how she knew the donor and she explained that they were Apostolic Workers and there were four other women in the group. Then she told me her life’s story. It was one of hardship and struggle. I sat there mesmerised as she gave me an insight into her life’s journey.

After taking her on a tour of Dalgan, we returned to reception, and she explained that she had to catch a bus back to Dublin. Claire and I thanked her for travelling all the way to bring a donation on a cold miserable Sunday afternoon.

It was late now and dark clouds had begun to roll in as I walked her to the bus stop. I offered to stay with her until the bus arrived, but she insisted that I return to Dalgan as it was beginning to rain. “Don’t worry Father,” she said. “I will say my Rosary while waiting for the bus.” I crossed the road and at the entrance to Dalgan, turned and waved, and she waved back.

As I made my way back to the front door, I pondered what had just happened. An 84-year-old woman, travelling by herself from Dublin, had brought a very heavy suitcase weighed down by coins to donate to the Columban Fathers. The lesson I learned that day was this: the manner in which it is given is worth more than the gift.

collage of Columban mission from all over the world
Thank you collage of Columbans on mission around the world

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