My Dear Friends,
There are saints among us. We don’t know their names, but they sit next to you in the pews during Mass. They’re saying prayers for you before you arrive at church and long after Mass is over. They do tiny acts of love for you here in our parish. Their good deeds are sometimes known only to God himself. One of the most edifying things about being a priest is sometimes catching glimpses of these unknown saints at work here in our parish and school. I’d like to share the story of one of them.
This past Tuesday, our school suffered the loss of one of our longest tenured staff members. Mrs. Aleida Franco was called home by the Lord after a brief bout with cancer. She had worked at St. Theresa for 38 years. She was, to put it simply, the grandmother of our school. Even if your children never attended our parochial school, you probably encountered her. She was the crossing guard for the school, and probably had you stop in your car so the little ones could walk safely to class. She wore her crossing guard vest given to her by the Coral Gables PD with pride. It was a solemn duty to look after our children. Between drop off and dismissal, she was the mother hen who looked over our students during recess so that our teachers could have lunch. You could always find her by the metal bench on the west side of our north building in what is known, and will forever be known for that matter, as “Mrs. Franco’s Bench.” She would give little treats to the kids when they showed up for recess, the middle school kids would come to her for advice, and even many of our teachers would seek out her wisdom…principal and pastor included. There were days when she would surprise the faculty with some wonderful dish that she would place in the teachers’ lounge, and sometimes she would sneak in popsicles to give to the children. And she was out there in the hot South Florida sun happily looking over “her kids.” Always ready with a welcoming smile. Always with her umbrella in hand to shield her from the sun. On rainy days, without complaint she would be at her post making sure the crosswalks were safe for our children. She was admired by all, loved by all, respected by all.
Late last spring she started to fall ill. Yet she persisted in coming to work until right around Memorial Day when her health wouldn’t allow her. She did muster up what strength she could to attend out 8th graders’ graduation on June 8th. The kids were overjoyed when they walked out of church with diplomas in hand to find Mrs. Franco ready to give them a hug. As summer went on her health continued to deteriorate. I called early in the summer to go see her and anoint her. But she wasn’t ready. Two weeks ago, not thirty minutes had passed since I had arrived home from vacation, I got a call that Mrs. Franco wanted to see me. Immediately I rushed to the hospital to see her. She was weak but able to talk. And here is the main point of all these lines I have just written: when she saw me by her bedside, she uttered with great faith, “Father, I want you to prepare me for heaven.” I will leave the rest of the details of my visit for another time, but I can honestly say that in the 20 years that I have been called to a hospital to commend a soul to heaven, I have never encountered such incredible faith. She was looking forward to heaven. To being with her husband who died not too long ago. To being with her parents again. To being with her Lord. She had a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and in our most recent yearbook she contributed this quote from Our Blessed Mother: “If you love me, trust me and believe in me, I will respond.” The words resonated with me because one of her last words to me was to continue to take care of the children. She was always interceding on their behalf when they would get into mischief, and now I know she is interceding on their behalf before our Lord.
Yes, there are saints among us. Our community just lost one. Look around you in church today. Pray for your brother and sister sitting next to you. Do a good deed for them. Mirror the example of Mrs. Franco. And pray for our children just as she always did. St. Theresa has lost one of her shining pillars, but we gained a humble, yet persistent intercessor much like our patroness. Rest well, Mrs. Franco. May you hear the words we all long to hear one day: “Well done good and faithful servant. Come share in your Master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21)
God bless you all,