“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless.
God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
“In my greatest sufferings, it seems to me that I no longer have a mother on this earth, but a very compassionate one in Heaven.”
-Words of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968)
It’s only Tuesday, but it has already been a tough week. The news Sept. 16 of the shootings at the Navy Yard brought more fear and trepidation to the hearts of people in both DC and throughout our nation as we awaited word on casualties and the families who were now torn apart by violence.
Life is not easy. There are blessings and there are struggles. We never know what the day will bring.
Here at John Carroll this morning we welcomed Elizabeth Puleo, a 2013 graduate of Mount Saint Mary’s University, to speak to our student body on the importance of relying on God to overcome the challenges and difficulties that we encounter along the path of life. Beth opened her personal story by telling our students that “Everything happens for a reason. We must trust God. He will call us out of the darkness into the light.”
Beth spoke of her battle since the age of 5 with brain cancer and numerous surgeries, all experienced while witnessing her own father’s health deteriorate from ALS and his subsequent death when she was 11.
Beth spoke of her deep faith in God from an early age. She was able to receive her First Holy Communion just three weeks after her second cancer surgery: “I was truly blessed and knew that God was by my side walking with me in my fight with cancer.”
After suffering devastating side effects from excessive radiation treatments, Beth spoke about her faith being very strong in spite of not understanding why God allowed this to happen to her at such a young age. One night she awakened to a man standing in the corner of her room beckoning her to come to him. He wore robes and reminded her of Saint Francis of Assisi. A visit later that week to a nearby shrine revealed a statue of Padre Pio whom Beth immediately recognized as the man who visited her. Beth recounted that Padre Pio “believed that suffering is a crucial part of life and it brings us closer to God.” Drawing strength from Padre Pio’s message Beth learned to continue to accept her suffering and her need to fully trust in God.
Beth continued to inspire us as she shared about her family joining in the 2000 Knights of Malta pilgrimage to Lourdes. One of the high points of their visit was witnessing her Dad’s reactions during the trip. ALS had taken such a toll on him and he had been struggling to accept his own death. Beth told us that at Lourdes her Dad found his peace with God. She spoke of being inspired by her father’s journey and being motivated by him to carry on with her own health struggles.
Beth felt Our Lady’s presence everywhere she went while in Lourdes. She told our students of her “huge devotion to Mary” all her life. She beautifully shared how she sees Our Lady in her own mother who is both her Mom and her best friend.
After returning home from their pilgrimage Beth said she knew that “God was with me. I was determined that I would live and prove them (the doctors) wrong.” She placed her complete trust in God.
Beth returned to school a year later “a completely different person.” Due to the radiation, she “looked completely different, but was still the same person… with a different face and physically disabled, but still the same person.” Beth recalled feeling judged by her classmates for her appearance, with friends turning their back on her, and feeling terrible about herself and the situation. Beth recalls her lament about being judged based on her looks and wondering why she should lose her friends too after all that she had been through. Her facial appearance had been altered so that even a smile was not possible for a long time: “Smiling is such an amazing, simple, and beautiful gift.”
Beth’s message to our students was most important: Try not to ever judge anyone. You never know what someone is going through. Get to know them instead.
Completely inspiring to our students and faculty alike, Beth graduated this past May with a degree in Communications from Mount Saint Mary’s. Her personal story of her struggle with cancer was published in 2010 with the title “Game Changer.” When asked about her future plans, Beth shared that she loves reading and writing and hopes to pursue a career with a non-profit. Another book might also be in her future. She feels the need to do something religious as she wants “to fulfill her purpose by living for God.”
Beth is excited that she is able to speak to student groups about her faith in God and hopes to inspire more young people as she takes her message to Mount deSales Academy and her alma mater Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, PA. She shared that it is “very humbling and fulfilling to tell my story. It’s really not my story, it is God’s story. It is God’s grace that comes to me when I speak and I need to share it.”
Prayer for Overcoming Adversity:
God our Father,
You grow and stretch our maturity through circumstances
that don’t always reflect our choosing.
It helps us to gain needed perspective and experience
in situations not of our own choosing, but to our overall benefit.
Help us to be patient as we search Your Scripture
and seek to understand Your plan as it unfolds in our lives.
Align our desires with Your own as we submit our will to Yours.
May we not be overcome by adversity but ask You, Father,
to use adversity as a tool by which You carve
Your image and character deep into our hearts.
We may make our plans, but we realize that, as Your children,
You will have the final say.
John Carroll President Richard O’Hara, with Beth Puleo, and 2010 John Carroll grad Meg O’Hara, now a senior at Mount Saint Mary University, and JC Principal Madelyn Ball.