Rita, like most children, found herself losing a lot of things. She’d misplace the occasional sweater, and without fail, her parents would insist she pray to St. Anthony, patron Saint of lost things.
Without fail, a recognizable prayer to St. Anthony — “Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and must be found.” — would help guide Rita in almost every instance.
Rita’s parents had a first-class relic all while she was growing up. First-class relics are rare — the relic is part of the saint’s body, usually hair, blood or bone. Rita believes her parents were given the relic by her aunt. Nonetheless, the relic was always kept safe. Proper documentation ensured it was a true first-class relic. “Mother always knew just how much I loved St. Anthony. When mother passed, she made sure that St. Anthony was given to me,” Rita said.
It wasn’t just about the type of relic or the fact that her family had one, St. Anthony means a lot to Rita. Rita believes that St. Anthony holds a special place in her life. He means so much to her that she even named one of her sons in his honor.
As she got older, Rita began to ponder what she might do with the relic.
For more than 20 years, Rita held onto the relic of St. Anthony. She wanted to make sure the relic of St. Anthony was put into the right hands — hands of someone who would honor and cherish the relic that meant so much to her. Rita believed St. Francis would be that place.
Rita donated the relic to St. Francis of Assisi when Father Anh was the pastor. St. Francis of Assisi was a fitting place for St. Anthony of Padua, who was a Franciscan. There were ideas to make a reliquary — a place where holy relics are kept on display — but there was never a perfect fit. We kept the relic in a secure place at St. Francis, waiting for the right moment to display this precious relic.
Every altar is meant to have at least one Saint’s first-class relic placed in the altar. In the early days of the Church, Mass would be celebrated in catacombs. The tradition of celebrating Mass on the tombs of martyrs turned into a sign of respect, reminding us that God worked through these Saints.
The Dedication Mass was just around the corner, and our new altar was ready for dedication. Rita received a call from Denise Brooks, Director of Music and Liturgy for St. Francis of Assisi, ahead of the Dedication Mass where she asked Rita if she’d be willing to carry the relic of St. Anthony to the Bishop during the Dedication Mass.“I don’t think I cried on the phone with her, but when I hung up, I just burst into tears,” Rita said.
Rita is a believer that when Jesus lets us wait, He has something better in mind. The ability to have St. Anthony in the altar at St. Francis of Assisi was what Jesus had in mind.
St. Francis of Assisi is Rita’s home, and has been since 1974. Rita saw the creation of the church at 861 Wildwood Lane in 1985 and its expansion in 2001. She was slightly concerned about the renovations to the sanctuary, thinking it may lose warmth it had when we removed the wood paneling. “… Nothing could prepare me for when I walked in and saw the beauty in front of me,” Rita said, recalling seeing the sanctuary’s completion on Sept. 1.
Now, as the relic of St. Anthony of Padua sits in our newly dedicated altar, Rita loves visiting St. Francis even more than before. “It’s very emotional for me to know that St. Anthony holds a place of honor in such a holy spot in our church.”
For more information on the sanctuary details, click here.
This story was written about Rita Gehlsen by Joseph Barringhaus, Director of Marketing and Events here at St. Francis of Assisi. If you’re interested in writing a blog for St. Francis of Assisi or have an interesting story you think our parishioners should hear, please contact Joseph at [email protected].