Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • May
  • 23

Kind gesture brings woman back into the fold

Posted By May 23, 2013 | 12:38 pm | Lead Story #3
Catholic Mother 020WEB

By Constance Dwyer
CFP Correspondent

GRAFTON – Denise Tucker of St. James Parish serves at her parish not to get thanks, but to give it.
As a teenager she was turned off from priests and church after being cruelly treated at a youth group initiation. She became a sporadic Mass-goer for 35 years but was drawn back to church and parish work by her pastor’s simple question four and half years ago.
Now, Mrs. Tucker is a lector and eucharistic minister, and a member of the bereavement committee, parish council and outreach group. She also counts the collection and does gardening and cleaning at the church. Through the ministry to the homebound, she takes Communion to parishioners at home or in nursing homes.
She and fellow-parishioner Denise L’Esperance started the Parish Family Unity Group which hosts a monthly coffee hour after Sunday Masses and parish events such as the annual Easter egg hunt. They also decorate the church for Christmas and Easter.
But Mrs. Tucker’s journey to this point was not easy. She said that growing up in Chelmsford she had a “lukewarm” Catholic upbringing – attending religious education classes, receiving her first Communion and confirmation (and later the sacrament of marriage), in her church, but rarely attending Sunday Mass.
As a young teen-ager something happened which removed any desire she had to be involved in church, though she did go occasionally after that. She told the story this way.
When she was 12, she looked forward to joining the parish youth group in which her older sister and others “had a ball.” At 13, the minimum age for members, she joined.
At an initiation night she noticed a fireplace poker and a lit can of Sterno. She was blindfolded and made to lie on a table. Older teens heated the poker and placed it on her arm. When she didn’t give them the satisfaction of crying out in pain, they did it again. When she still kept the pain to herself, they stopped.
She said no one else was initiated that way that night; the other initiation activities, which she cannot now remember, were not painful.
The only adult she recalls being present was a priest who was right behind the table when she was burned, and he didn’t do or say anything, she said. She declined to name the priest because she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps his back was turned and he didn’t see what was done to her. She said he has since left the priesthood.
After a neighbor dropped her off at home that night, she burst into tears upon seeing her mother, she said. Her mother said, “We can’t tell your father;” he would have been furious with the priest. Nothing more was said, though her mother probably treated the injury, she said.
For the next 35 years, Mrs. Tucker said, she still attended church occasionally “because I knew I was supposed to.” But she didn’t trust priests. Then she met one who changed her life with a very ordinary caring gesture.
She and her family moved to Grafton 11 years ago, and she sporadically attended Mass, having met neighbors who loved Father Michael F. Rose, then St. James’ pastor and now a monsignor and pastor of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury.
The first time Mrs. Tucker met Father Edward J. Hanlon, who succeeded Msgr. Rose at St. James, was after a Sunday Mass.
“How are we doing?” he asked her.
“In that instant, I felt that he sincerely cared and wanted to know how I was doing,” Mrs. Tucker said. “Well, that did it; that was all it took. Father Hanlon’s genuine concern and welcoming hospitality brought me back into the Church.
“That was four-and-a-half years ago and I haven’t looked back. I started getting involved at St. James. And the more I did, the more I wanted to do – to give thanks to God and to show him my love, to show him how truly grateful I am to be here. I love being here.
“It’s important to show your love and gratitude to people. Everything I do at St. James I do to give thanks, not to get thanks,” she said.
Mrs. Tucker said she has come to know Father Hanlon as a friend and spiritual director.
“As busy as he is, he always makes time for me,” she said. “I am so grateful for all the ways he has helped me on my faith journey, and I love him, as do so many other parishioners. It terrifies me to think where I’d be today if I hadn’t had that encounter on the church steps with Father Hanlon. I thank God every day for putting Father Hanlon on my path.”
It isn’t just the good things in her life that Mrs. Tucker is thankful for. Ten months ago, she had rotator cuff surgery, and the physical therapy that followed for three months was the most painful experience of her life, she said.
“I was ready to give up,” she said. “I felt I just couldn’t take that pain any longer. I didn’t want to quit, though, so I begged God to help me and he did. He got me through it. I didn’t give up.”
Now she says she is grateful to have gone through that experience, because it strengthened her relationship with God.
“That pain sent me running to him,” she said. “In one of Father Hanlon’s homilies he said, ‘If you are in pain, or suffering through something, what can you learn from it?’ Well, from this experience I learned that God will get me through anything if I just ask for help. I am so thankful for this lesson.”
The stay-at-home mother said many parishioners are surprised by all that she does, between the parish and her family, but she hopes she can give witness to God’s love.
“God gives me the energy,” she said. “The gratitude keeps me going.”
She and her husband, Brian, observed their 29th wedding anniversary Sunday. They have two sons, Zach, 20, a sophomore at Emerson College, and Henry, 12, a sixth-grader at Millbury Street Elementary School. In addition to caring for her family, she feels the Holy Spirit guiding her to help others by being involved in her parish, she said.
“I hope to be a role model for others in their journey,” she said. “I am the perfect example that it’s never too late to come back to the Church. God never stops trying to reach out his loving arms to you. We can be like lost sheep that stray but he is always nearby to welcome you home.  I am truly grateful that God never gave up on me.”