By Barb Arland-Fye
Margaret Leonard achieved her last goal this side of heaven: being present as two of her grandchildren received first Communion. Nine-year-old Hope Leonard and her brother, 11-year-old Matt Leonard, made their first Communion during the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday, March 7, at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Bettendorf. Their grandmother died 13 days later.
“It was emotional for all of us,” said Jackie Leonard, Hope and Matt’s mother and Margaret’s daughter-in-law. “I think it even helped us to deal with the death — to have such a special thing. It definitely renewed all of our faith in God. It was just wonderful. Just for Father Mac (Father Robert McAleer, pastor) to do this and the whole parish as well. We felt very embraced by the parish,” Jackie said.
Fr. McAleer described how Margaret entered the church by wheel chair, with great assistance from her family, and then “we celebrated the anointing of the sick. When it was time for Communion, the entire family gathered first and I announced to the congregation why we were celebrating two first Communions early.
“There was not a dry eye in church. The family had to take more responsibility to prepare their children for that day since it was out of our sacramental sequence,” the pastor added. “Perhaps the story is to know the needs as they come forth and to know that we can do things for special reasons and that it only enriches a parish when we can accommodate a family in such a way.”
He noted that later, at Margaret’s funeral Mass, “much of the funeral theme was built around a woman who could see through her faith. She lost her sight before the first Communion so it was really something for the parish to see her struggling with the blindness that was caused by the brain tumors.”
After being diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago, Margaret set goals to stay motivated. Her last was to see Hope and Matt make their first Communion, Jackie said.
Jackie, who is not Catholic, and her husband Jim, Margaret’s son, had enrolled their children in religious education at St. John Vianney just this past fall and planned to have them celebrate first Communion with other children in the parish on April 17. They were receiving additional instruction at home to prepare for the sacrament.
But when Margaret lost her sight in mid-February and decided against further treatment for cancer, Jim contacted the parish about the possibility of having Hope and Matt make their first Communion as soon as possible. “We didn’t think she’d live long enough to wait for the whole class,” Jackie said.
“When Jim e-mailed how his mothers’ health had taken a turn for the worse, I contacted Father right away,” said Nicky Stevenson, the parish’s religious education director.
Having his mother present for the children’s first Communion “was really great,” Jim said. His father, Roy, Margaret’s husband of 43 years, also was present along with other family members. Jim said his mother seemed happy to be taking part. “We wheeled her up there in the wheel chair and she took Communion after the kids did. She had trouble swallowing and breathing, but she was determined to be there.”
Hope and Matt knew their first Communion was special, “but being kids they didn’t understand how touching it was,” Jim said. “They knew Grandma had been so sick for so long, but they wanted to do it for her.”