April 2, 2021

Amid the pandemic, a question for God leads woman to a deeper faith

Throughout the pandemic, Darlene Sweeney has felt her prayers have been answered in her role as director of volunteer services for the Indianapolis Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In this March 24 photo, she poses at the society’s food pantry in Indianapolis as volunteers from St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis put together boxes of food for home deliveries to people in need. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Throughout the pandemic, Darlene Sweeney has felt her prayers have been answered in her role as director of volunteer services for the Indianapolis Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In this March 24 photo, she poses at the society’s food pantry in Indianapolis as volunteers from St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis put together boxes of food for home deliveries to people in need. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: As part of our coverage of the ongoing influence that the pandemic is having on the faith lives of people, The Criterion invited our readers to share their experiences.)
 

Third in a series
 

By John Shaughnessy

In the midst of the pandemic—with heartbreak touching the lives of so many people—Darlene Sweeney asked God a question.

It’s a question that has deepened her relationship with God and other people:

“Lord, what can I do?”

Trying to answer that question, Sweeney found herself focusing on her next-door neighbor at a critical point in her friend’s life.

“She had been battling dementia for several years, was transferred to a nursing home during the pandemic, and hospice was called in,” recalls Sweeney, a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “I have had these wonderful neighbors for the five years I have lived in Indy, and to witness this slow and agonizing deterioration of a friend was heartbreaking. Because I had received both vaccinations, I was allowed to sit with her two days before she passed.

“I was somewhat apprehensive because I have never sat at the bedside with someone approaching death before. She was not aware I was there. As I sat by her, I felt such calm and peace as I was able to let her know how much she meant to me. I was able to pray for her as she was close to the end of her journey here, and to say goodbye. What a blessing it was.”

Her poignant connections with people in need continued when she recently helped another woman by finding a way around the usual approach of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, where Sweeney serves as the director of volunteer services for its Indianapolis Council.

Answering a prayer

“I was privileged to speak with a woman who had been homeless and just moved into her apartment,” Sweeney recalls. “She had nothing—no furniture, no household items, not even a fork or a spoon. She mentioned she had many physical problems and she was sleeping on the floor, but she said she didn’t mind because it was her floor. She was so grateful to be off the streets and that someone cared enough about her to find out about her needs.

“When I told her she would have to pick up all the items we had for her, she told me she had absolutely no way of arranging that. St. Vincent de Paul normally does not deliver, but in this case everything was loaded into a truck and delivered to her apartment. Furniture, household items, linens, cleaning products—everything she needed to make her house a home.”

When the woman told Sweeney how thankful she was that someone “cared so much” about her, Sweeney responded with this thought: “I told her how blessed I was to be chosen to be the messenger to make this happen.”

Reflecting upon these two situations, Sweeney says, “One can’t help but grow in their faith when encounters like this happen.”

That thought leads Sweeney to consider the powerful extent of God’s presence amid the challenges and heartbreaks of the pandemic. She believes God “has been granting more prayers because of the position we’re in.”

She’s found some of her own prayers answered in the ways that people have helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our food pantry serving 3,000 households each week was transformed into a drive-through operation in a matter of days to be in compliance with all the guidelines of the pandemic,” she says about that transition in March of 2020. “We never skipped a beat providing food to the ever-increasing needs of our neighbors.

“When we were drastically short of volunteers, God sent us the National Guard, students, missionaries and many others to do a job we couldn’t do without them. Others in the community saw our need, and we had more first-time donors than ever before.”

Sweeney also marvels at how her relationship with God has deepened in the past year.

A soul-searching journey

When the pandemic initially caused churches to close, she missed not being able to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. Still, she focused on making the most of the virtual Masses she watched in the comfort of her home.

“God came to me where I was,” she says. “Now it was just me and the Lord. No one else. No distractions. I was able to concentrate on the Mass, the readings, the Gospel. I looked at my sign that says, ‘Be still and know that I AM.’ So powerful.”

The power of that relationship has continued as she recently returned to

St. Mary Church for Mass, including “the blessing” of receiving the Eucharist again.

“This whole year, I’ve felt God has been with me every single day. At work, I asked him every day to help me. I had never really taken my Lord to work with me before. I have realized all the abilities that God has given me to use for his benefit, for his good.

“St. Vincent de Paul is all about seeing the face of Christ in others. This journey has been a soul-searching one. There’s the realization that all I have and all I am is because of him.”

That belief has guided her through her own personal challenge of the past year—her 7-year-old granddaughter being diagnosed with diabetes.

“It devastated the entire family,” Sweeney says. “This disease is a difficult one—so much unknown, so much to learn, so unfair, so stressful on the parents. I prayed hard for her but even harder for her parents that they would learn to cope and handle this disease in the little girl they love so much.”

Once again, Sweeney says, “my prayers have been answered.”

“My granddaughter is amazing as to how she is handling this new life until a cure is found. She so much loves the Lord. Her parents provide everything she needs on a daily basis to stay alive and well. We all witnessed her first reconciliation together as she prepares for her first holy Communion in May. God is good.”

In a year marked by heartbreak, Sweeney has found reasons for hope, trust and gratitude.

“My journey may not be like others. I know there’s been so much pain. But for me, to have this personal relationship with God at this stage of my life is wonderful. It’s been such a time of reflection and growth. I’ve learned to trust more. In this year of isolation, I’ve always felt the Lord was with me, guiding my life.” †

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