Archive for Mary K Meyer

Eulogy of Mary K. Meyer

By Brad Grabs 

There is so much that could be said in a eulogy of Mary K. Meyer.  There is little, however, that could be said that wouldn’t cause Mary K. to wince at all the attention focused on her life and her accomplishments.  

Knowing Mary K., she probably wouldn’t want me to go on about her ministry at the Manna House in Concordia, providing Sanctuary to desperate Central American refugees, giving everything she had for those who had nothing. 

She probably wouldn’t want me to say much about her many trips to El Salvador, serving as an international accompanier and human shield, risking her life to stand in solidarity with war-ravaged people. 

She probably wouldn’t want me to make a big deal of her two trips to Iraq in recent years, bringing a desperately needed offering of peace to our brothers and sisters in that country, even as our own country was hungry for war. 

She might not want me to go into too much detail about her being booted from the Muehlebach Hotel for confronting General Norman Schwarzkopf on his role in the deaths of innocent Iraqis during the Persian Gulf War. 

Mary K. might blush a bit if I told you how dearly she loved and respected her family, and how deeply they loved and respected her. 

She might try to downplay her lead role in building the Senior Center and elderly housing units in her beloved hometown of Chapman, KS. 

Mary K. wouldn’t consider it very noteworthy to mention all of the countless cards and letters that she wrote to hundreds of people, giving them encouragement, hope, and her very sincere love. 

She might be a tad embarrassed if I told you about how she recently cornered one of our 200 lb, 6 foot tall guests at Shalom House and made him take off his t-shirt immediately and throw it in the trash.  It was a couple of weeks later before I had the heart to tell her that the advertisement on his shirt was actually for a bottle of Mexican hot sauce, not a bottle of liquor.  She laughed, and apologized to him.  He never said a word. 

And she probably wouldn’t think it even worth mentioning how carefully and lovingly she washed and folded the clothes of every Shalom House guest for 18 years. 

Yes, Mary K. was a humble woman, avoiding the spotlight except when it served the purpose of standing up for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed. 

But there is one thing that I can say about Mary K. that I know she would wholeheartedly approve of.  She would flash her big smile, her eyes would sparkle, and she’d give a two thumbs up if I told you what I admired most about Mary K.  And that is this …

Mary K. Meyer loved God.  And she trusted God.   The depth of her love for her Creator was beyond any I have ever witnessed.  Her devotion to prayer, her insistence on discernment of God’s will, even her faithfulness to promoting peace and serving others, were simply passionate expressions of a deep and abiding love for God. 

Perhaps the greatest evidence of Mary K.’s trust in God was her ability to wade through hopelessness and despair and destruction during the day, turn it over to God with great supplication that night, and fall asleep easily, with peace in her heart, always, always eager for another day. 

Mary K. was a strong-willed person, never backing down from her strong convictions…but she never hesitated to submit to the will of God.

Mary K. was a fearless person, confronting drug dealers in our neighborhood and death squads in El Salvador.  But there is One whom she deeply feared and revered. 

Mary K. was a very independent woman, unmoved by the judgments of others and constantly challenging the values of our culture…but she never forgot her utter dependence on God. 

And Mary K. was, in many ways, a private woman…but was intensely intimate with her Creator. 

I’d like to add one more thing to this tribute to Mary K. if I may.  Perhaps it seems impossible for any of us to fully embody the remarkable traits of Mary K.   But I’d like to suggest that each one of us, the hundreds of family, friends, and admirers of Mary K. who are gathered here today, could reflect upon the one thing that each of us admired most about her…the one thing about her that inspired us the most…the one thing about Mary K. that each of us desperately wants to live on. 

And after we identify that one thing, may each of us work to integrate that one special thing into our own lives.  And if we can embody even that one thing, as we go forth from this church today, the heart, the mind, the hands, the feet, the smile, the passion, the dedication, the faith, the spirit of Mary K. Meyer will go forth as well, in a very tangible way, continuing to bring light, and peace, and joy to a world deeply in need. 

And it may be easier than we think.  Because the spirit of Mary K., now fully joined to our loving God, and I dare say even more emboldened by God, will be there to accompany us each step of the way. 




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Homily for the Funeral Mass of Mary K. Meyer

By Fr. Mike Coleman

10 February 2007
Our Lady and St. Rose of Lima Church
Kansas City, Kansas

During the Second World War when American Marines were retaking
the Mariana islands in the South Pacific from the Japanese,
a group landed on one of the islands and encountered a convent of American sisters.
The sisters were caring for the displaced, for orphans and for lepers.
It was clear that life was very hard on many levels.
The Marine captain told the sister in charge:
“You couldn’t hire me to do this for all the money in the world.”
And she quietly said to him: “Me neither.”
She kind of looked down, then raised her eyes to look at the solider, and smiled,
as if sharing a secret, or affirming something the two of them could agree on.
Alejandro had slipped into the United States for many reasons.
He was just a kid, a nice young man, as Mary Kay would say,
who for the most part was seeking a little adventure.
He stayed for a while at Shalom House during the summer,
but finally decided that he wanted to be closer to Mexico.

When he left the house to go to the railroad yard,
Mary Kay checked to see that he had his money securely concealed in his clothing.
And she did two additional things that she had never done with any of the others:
she wrote her name and phone number on a piece of paper
and gave it to him: “ Call me if you get into trouble.”
And, she gave him a kiss.  At the time she said she felt very much like his mother.
Although she later said she did not know why she had done that, it did become clear in time.
A few days later she received a call from a Sheriff in Louisiana.
He said: “Do you know someone named Alejandro?
We found his body today at the bottom of a coal car.
He apparently had crawled into the car to sleep
And the workers did not know anyone was in the car when they filled it with coal.
He had your phone number in his pocket.”
In Renaissance paintings coming out of the Catholic Reformation
there are many paintings in which we see a person standing in the foreground,
and the person is pointing: usually pointing at Christ –  and looking at us,
just in case we might miss the whole reason why the picture was painted to begin with.

I would like to characterize Mary Kay and others who think and act as she did
as witnesses who point whether really or metaphorically.

A witness in this context is a person who is present
on God’s behalf in the here and now concerning some present condition.  
A witness may speak aloud, sometimes a witness may actually point,
but often the witness simply stands or acts in the scene silently.
The purpose of the witnessing  is to remind the viewer
that there is something here which needs to be paid attention to. 

In the Catholic Worker sense of witness,
the pointing or the standing is to call attention to the fact
that the scene does not conform to right order in the universe.
It takes a certain kind of witness who has the guts to raised the question: —
why does this condition exist,  – how much longer must it exist,  and — can no one fix it?   

Archbishop Helder Camara, of Recife in Brazil,
said: “When I feed the poor, people say I am a saint;
But when I ask why the people are poor, they say I am a Communist.”

A witness knows fairly well from experience
that for all the pointing or being present in the world,
the condition is not likely to change. 
But for the record, for God’s record,
the situation has been acknowledged and underlined by someone who has pointed out
that the situation is not in the interest of the human race,
nor in the interest of God’s hopes for the universe:

– And so the witness goes to the school of the Americas and points:
– The witness is arrested for trespassing at a nuclear testing site,
  and is taken away by the mps:
– A witness disrupts the talk of a big shot from Washington, and is hustled from the room.

A witness is one who says that some human behavior is so awful,
so resistant to external force to change it
that passive resistance is the only tool we have to overcome its power.
Some things cannot be “fixed” by external manipulation.

Mary Kay was quoted in the newspaper as saying:

“These are not normal times.  In the midst of darkness and fear, we need to celebrate the good and the noble deep within us.  We need to celebrate the times we have stood up against evil and injustice, and said with our hearts, ‘No.’”
(Kevin Kelly, “Memorial service remembers El Salvador’s martyrs,” The Catholic Key, 9 December 2001.)

And when the hearings are held in the next life,
the witness will be summoned to testify:
Yes, Lord, I saw it, yes, I noted it, and yes, I questioned it.
Our Lord said: I was hungry and naked and homeless, and friendless.
And yes, you fed me; you clothed me; you welcomed and befriended me.

There is no middle person here: no illegal, no druggie, no schizophrenic,
no someone at the bottom of the food chain.

And by extension Jesus might say:  
 I was in danger because they taught people in my country refined ways of torture
  and you gave me asylum;

 My society, my country was in danger of being destroyed, and you came and walked   among us. 

 I had absolutely nothing to give you and you loved me as your own.

If we believe this at all, we believe it more firmly today
because of the example of Mary Kay and those of her company.   

The witness points to our lips and to our hearts and in effect says:
I hear what your lips say, what does your heart say?
Perhaps when Mary Kay made the transition to the Light,
and met the Light face to face,
She kind of looked down, as she was wont to do,
then raised her eyes to look at the Lord, and smiled,
as if sharing a secret, or affirming something the two of them could agree on:

Most likely, she pointed at Jesus, and, not all that surprised, said:
“So, you are the one I’ve been working for all these years,
bossing you around, cleaning up after you, taking you to the clinics,
putting up with your disruptions, moving you along when the time came,
though I have to admit this always saddened me.

I always found you something of a puzzle on earth –
You come in such a variety of flavors and identities.”

Then maybe she turned, with a little flick of her pony tail to look around
and here she really pointed: “I see the streets here are not paved with gold. Glad to see that!”
Then turning back to the Lord, she said: “Well, nice place you have here.  Anything you need done?”

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Panchimalco and Baghdad

NOTE: This speech was given by Mary K. Meyer for the SHARE Regional Meeting in Kansas City, MO on October 25, 2003.   

I’m glad to have been a part of this day, because if life has taught me anything it is that accompaniment is where it’s at. We are all in this together and the more we can walk with each other, the happier we will be. And, I’m sure, the happier God will be.

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It must be

Since Mary K. died on Monday, I have been thinking of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16, the last major work he composed before he died. I have been asking the question he wrote on the manuscript, a childish question, I know, but an honest one – “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?) And I have heard her speaking in my mind, in that unmistakable voice, the answer – “Es muss sein.” (It must be!)   

I can just barely accept this. And my problem is that she was the one who could and would explain to me – someone so given to doubt – why this fits into God’s plan. Like so many of us, she had to comfort me last fall after she said quietly, “I am not long for this world.” 

We all know that her spirit lives on. And we cherish her spirit. But we also loved her face, especially her dear smile. We loved her small, strong hands which she often perched just above the flames of the gas burner in the kitchen. Her deep laugh … her “Oh my.” … her birthday cards. We loved her white ponytail hair, her eyeglass holder always around her neck, the way she made her tea like it was prayer. We loved her blue jeans and her Birkenstock sandals. And no one can promise these things to us except our memories.

It’s almost not good enough.

This might seem like a strange protest. She lived her 76 years like life was meant to be lived. She traveled the world, always for a cause. She loved in great quality and quantity, the “barren woman with many sons.” She had more close friends than anyone could have dared to pray for. She helped thousands of people better understand Christ by simply being herself. She came so close to her goal to “die with my sandals on.” Just a week before, she was downstairs amongst her sons, those eyes weary but still blazing. She fought injustice, but her own life was just and complete – she told us so. 

Mary K. once gave me a gift, a sign that simply reads, “Try Thanksgiving.” And we are thankful. That she did not suffer, that she died peacefully at Shalom House as she wished. That her sheer strength and will to live gave us all another 18 months to be with her after the first critical illness. That her cancer did not stop her life, but created, as Marie de Paul Combo put it, a time of harvest of those who loved her. We are thankful for the gift of faith, a gift from God, nurtured by her example. We are thankful for the gift of life, for her life. Thank you God, and thank you Mary K.

But still. Must it be?

I sat next to Mary K. two Sundays ago and she took my hand. I was amazed by the strength of her embrace. She squeezed tighter still, to say without words, I’ll let go now. But I wasn’t ready. So she held on. Then she squeezed again, but I wasn’t ready yet. So she held on. Then she squeezed with resolution and I understood. She let go.

So many people shared the weight of their joys and hopes and fears with her – rich and poor, of many faiths and colors – she bore them all with us. But God or fate or simply cancer asked her to let go, and she finally did. Now we must lift in this present world without her smile, her laugh, her sweet and good eyes. And I know we can, but oh my, Ms. Meyer, I for one don’t want to. Can we really, I mean really, do well without you?



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In the Media: Tom Fox & Mary K., ‘Truth’ parties, excommunication & immigrants

Tom Fox and Mary K. Meyer   

If you haven’t heard it yet, please take some time to listen to the conversation between the National Catholic Reporter‘s Tom Fox and Mary K. Meyer at the NCR Cafe. So many of you have commented on how much you liked KC Olive Branch’s interview with Mary K. You are going to love this one.

‘Inconvenient Truth’ watch parties

Even if you have seen the powefully persuasive movie about global warming An Inconvenient Truth, you might still want to join a “See the Truth Movie Party” this Saturday, Dec. 16. Few movies about stewardship of the land have been more important. Check here to find the party nearest you.

Close to home: Vatican backs automatic excommunication in Nebraska

Catholic New Services reports: The Vatican has upheld Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz’s decision 10 years ago that membership in Call to Action “is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith” and results in automatic excommunication for Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln (Neb.)

Abbot Gregory Polan on justice and immigrants

The Catholic Key recently printed an excellent column by Abbot Gregory Polan, of Conception Abbey, on the Christian response to immigrants: “Every effort we make to relieve suffering, to support efforts toward justice, and to express our solidarity with the poor and needy is a work of God, a way of bringing divine help to others.”

With the recent arrests at the Swift plants in nearby states, his comments become even more relevant.



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A conversation with Mary K. Meyer – Part II

To hear an audio and expanded version of this interview, go here.   

A few days after the initial interview with Mary K. Meyer, she called me to say she had something else she wanted to share. The beginning of Part II is that statement and then more from the initial interview.

— Michael Humphrey


MKM: What I thought of was in the area of spirituality. A scripture that is very important to me and has been for probably 20 years. It was the Gospel just a few days ago, from John 1:47: “Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him and said of him, ‘Here is a true child of Israel, there is no duplicity in him.’” Other versions of the scriptures say it differently: “There is no guile in him.” And for a long time that scripture has been very meaningful to me and given me the desire to be like Nathaniel. Transparent, so that there’s no guile. That’s a lofty goal, but it’s one I work toward.

MH: It seems like that’s one of the ways we can relate to people who don’t see the world our way, if we’re not trying to be duplicitous or hide ourselves, or try to win.

MKM: Yeah, I don’t want to play games. What you see is what you’ve got.

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A conversation with Mary K. Meyer – Part I

For an audio (and extended) version of this conversation, go here.   

Mary K. Meyer is a well-known activist for peace and the director of Shalom Catholic Worker House, a shelter of homeless men in Kansas City, Kan. 

That, as many readers here will know, doesn’t begin to tell her story. What makes Mary K. such a powerful witness for peace is not simply her work or her faith. It is her very being. She is a person whose rare mix of kindness and strength has gained admiration from people of every faith, every ideology and every disposition one can imagine.

Recently Mary K., 76, was diagnosed with lung cancer and opted to forgo the painful treatments. Like everything else in her life, she has faced the news with a courage, and even a peace, that astounds most of us.

I have known her for nearly 20 years, thanks to a summer internship that led me to Shalom House the same year she took on the role of director. We talked on a recent Sunday afternoon for the benefit of KC Olive Branch readers. The contents of that talk will be posted over the next several weeks, beginning with this transcript.

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