By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Mona Wolbers remembers the morning her eight-year-old son Gary woke up with one of his eyes completely askew. A visit to the doctor’s office led to a months-long journey for treatment of brain cancer. Doctors mapped out potential outcomes for Mona, a nurse, and Don, her husband: Gary might not survive, he might have learning disabilities, his growth might be stunted, and he might not be able to have children.
“We wanted to make the best of it,” said Mona, a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. So, the family (Gary was the second oldest of four children) and neighborhood kids made the trips to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics where Gary received cobalt treatments.
“We were able to watch the treatments from a glassed-in balcony. Gary would be laying on this table with a big machine over his head and give us the peace sign,” Mona said. Afterwards, they stopped at an Iowa City park so the kids could play and then go to a restaurant for a bite to eat. The restaurant’s owner occasionally tossed warm muffins to the kids. “That’s something they still remember and talk about,” she recalled.
A fervent believer in the power of prayer, Mona said her prayers intensified during this ordeal. While at home one day, she felt inspired to paint a portrait of Jesus depicted as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “It turned out so good; I thought it must have been God who inspired it.” The eyes of Jesus in the portrait appear to watch the viewer from every direction. That watchful presence provided great comfort to Mona. During a particularly trying moment, she gazed at the painting and said, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give you my son. You take care of him.”
That prayer and many more prayed for other family members over the years have been answered in ways that fill Mona with gratitude. Gary survived cancer and eventually earned a doctorate at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Today, he teaches at Illinois State University.
Last fall, nearly 50 years after her son’s life-threatening illness, Mona attended Mass at The Fountains in Bettendorf and afterwards told the presider, Father Nicholas Akindele, about her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mona’s story astonished Father Nicholas, who served at that time as parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Parish. He has a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus because love and mercy flow from the human and divine heart of Jesus, the priest said.
Devotees celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus on first Fridays of the month. The day following Mona’s conversation with Father Nicholas was the first Friday of October. By “God-incidence,” Father Nicholas had received permission from Father Jim Vrba, St. John Vianney’s pastor, to offer adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays. Father Nicholas said he thought to himself, “Oh, God, you know how to set things up!” God “has a way of orchestrating things.”
Father Akindele told Mona to take her portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to church for display during adoration. Her painting was on display each Friday during adoration until the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. Mona distributed snapshot reproductions of the painting and prayer materials to people who participated in adoration.
During the Angelus that Pope Francis led on June 7, he reminded the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square that the month of June was dedicated in a special way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mona dedicates every day to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and invites other Catholics to discover the love and mercy that she has experienced in that devotion.
(Contact Mona at (563) 343-3344 if you would like a photograph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and prayer materials pertaining to the devotion.)
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