By Kelly L. Colangelo
It was the summer before my sophomore year of college that I found myself in a dusty old church closet. There were books that looked like they were from the 1930s, old pictures, tables full of junk, about 100 crucifixes’ and a certain musty smell in the room.
It was Sr. Marla Marie who recruited me to help her clean this closet… something I regretted saying yes to at first, but now I am forever grateful. My job was to throw old things out, label boxes, clean, and make everything neat. Easier said than done!
As our time progressed with the project, it became known as the “damn” closet. Sr. Marla Marie would ask, “Where are you Kelly?”and my response would be: “I’m in the “dc”, Sister.” My immediate feeling once the job was done was relief because it was finally over. After a couple of months and even up to the present moment, this experience was life changing.
Blessed with loving parents, one older sister, and a small extended family, I grew up in upstate, New York in a small city. My parents instilled in me the value of faith and education. I was educated in Catholic and public schools. My parents and teachers inspired me to work hard and they laid down a solid foundation for my character and faith formation.
Throughout my life I have been fortunate having known religious and priests who have shown me their love of God through the love and service that they have shown their neighbor. They are real heroes. My positive experiences with priests and religious that I knew as a child, teenager, and college student nourished in me a strong trust in the Church and all that She teaches.
All of them are people of great faith; always praying and helping others. I was and still am struck by their enthusiasm for young people and their passion for God. I am a better person because of knowing them. We need priests and religious to serve as examples of holiness God’s mission in our world.
Who I am today is partly because of religious. Among them, is Sr. Mary Cepha, who helped to show me the true meaning of giving. Around Christmas time, I visited apartment homes for elderly people with Sr. Mary Cepha and together we slipped Christmas cards under apartment doors. This three hour project brought joy and Christ to the residents. During my participation in the Life Teen program, I experienced Sr Mary Eileen’s enthusiasm for youth ministry.
Then, there is Sr. Linda Jean, a parish visitor who prepared me my first communion and many years later assisted me with planning a mission trip for teens in my youth ministry program. I visited her in the Bronx prior to the service weekend to set up the arrangements. The next day for breakfast, Sr. Linda had 17 different choices for me! Her hospitality and kindness were unconditional.
I will always be grateful to Sister Marla Marie as I got to journey with her best smile, warm greeting and sense of humor that is better than most comedians. Through being with her and seeing her visits with others, she is able to give people a sense of value for who they truly are. I will never forgot how she prayed with me… or how she took me to World Youth Day in Germany. She became and is my dear friend and confidant. It is in these moments where her zeal and passion for serving Christ shows me a perfect example of what it is to be a Sister. The best piece of advice she has given me is to “remember who you are”.
Then, there was Fr. Mike Mazurchuk, a Vincentian priest who helped deepen my relationship with God through daily Mass and retreat opportunities. He was so giving of himself to others, I saw the face of Christ through him. I will never forget Fr. John Wood’s kind heart. Fr Wood always remembered to ask me about my college classes, friends, and family. Fr. Robert Conrad had the best jokes! He supported me and came to my high school hockey games. Fr. Felix Colosimo’s down to earth approach to people and the faith have been an encouragement to me.
I remember them all. These and many other religious and clergy have had a tremendous influence in my life.
Who knew that a dusty, old church closet could be so meaningful? Because of it, Sr. Marla Marie became a fixture and role model in my life. I have been inspired to live the Catholic life of faith and to serve others. With joy in my heart, I seek to serve Christ in the persons of those in need. Thanks to that “dc”!
Kelly Colangelo is a 2007 graduate of Niagara University and just received her Masters degree in May from Syracuse University. Since 2007, Kelly has been serving as the Youth Minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in Fayetteville, NY.