The following article was published in Catholic Insight, November, 2011.
Early Sick Calls Remembered
By Msgr. Vincent Foy
If a priest is not familiar with death and dying before he is ordained, that is soon remedied afterwards. That is the way it was with me. I was ordained on June 3, 1939, at the age of twenty-three. That summer I was stationed at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in St. Catharines, Ontario. At that time, the Niagara Peninsula was part of the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Many sick calls in the summer of 1939 are fresh in my memory. One involved a head-on collision of two radial cars between Port Dalhousie and St. Catharines. When I got to the General Hospital there were about twenty-two injured people strewn over the emergency section. Very seriously injured was the motorman of one of the cars. He held on to the controls until the crash came, whereas the other motorman jumped to save himself. The injured motorman was a Mr. Schenk, an uncle of a young man who would become Bishop John O’Mara. I entered the room where Mr. Schenk was rolling in agony. His son-in-law entered the room at the same time and fainted at the sight of his relative. Mr. Schenk was moaning, “I’m dying. I’m dying.” I obtained a General Confession and anointed him. It turned out that his severe pain was caused by a piece of wood lodged in his back. He recovered, but was a cripple for life due to severe injuries to his feet.
Another sick call in early September of 1939 was what I consider a remarkable one. One afternoon, I received a phone call in which a lady’s voice said, “I am not going to tell you who I am. A dying lady needs your help at once. She lives at [here the address was given, about three miles away]. She lives with her daughter and son-in-law. The latter would not allow a priest in the house. Now the sick lady is by herself. I ask you to go at once to look after her.” I phoned Oz Darte, the junior Funeral Director of the Darte Funeral Home. He had offered to take me on any urgent sick calls. He was then about twenty-nine and is long since deceased. He came at once and drove me to the address given. It was on the outskirts of St. Catharines, a large corner house surrounded by a picket fence. I was able to unlock a gate in the fence. As I did so, I encountered a large German Police Dog, barking furiously.
Here I would like to remark that I had an unusual fear of Police Dogs. That went back to childhood days. My mother used to get a large shipment of fresh eggs for a relative on a farm near Mildmay. She used to get enough to supply two or three neighbours with eggs at a very reasonable price. On one occasion I took a large basket of eggs to my aunt along the street. I still had two or three dozen eggs to take to a family on Nealon Ave., the street behind ours. As I was climbing over my aunt’s back fence at the corner to the next door fence, I was jumped at by a large Police Dog. In my fright I dropped the basket and most of the eggs were broken. I had to report the accident to my dear mother.
To get back to my sick call in St. Catharines, I knew I had to face the ferocious Police Dog. While barking loudly at my heels, it did not bite. The front door of the home was locked, but remarkably, the back door was open. I entered and found the dying lady on a bed on the main floor. Her eyes lit up when she saw me. I heard her confession and anointed her. Then I asked her “Would you like to receive Holy Communion in the form of Viaticum?” “Oh yes!” she replied.
So I faced the barking dog again, had Oz Darte drive me back to St. Catherine’s Church and returned with the Blessed Sacrament. Once more I went by the dog and found the woman still alone. She very devotedly received Viaticum.
It was soon after that the woman died and was buried from a funeral home.
Often I wondered who notified me of the dying woman’s need. Could it have been her Guardian Angel?
November 21, 2011