Portraits of grace: McCarthys a fixture at Service of Blessing and Healing

It is 10:15 a.m., and Chautauqua’s morning bustle has begun. The Daily paper boy’s call is accompanied by the shuffle of feet and voices as Chautauquans begin to head for the Amphitheater lecture. It can all be heard from the United Church of Christ Randell Chapel. But the noise seems to fade as Roman Catholic Deacon Ed McCarthy and Jane, his wife, begin the daily Service of Blessing and Healing.

It is a simple ceremony — a meditation, the participants voicing petitions, the laying on of hands and anointing of oil. Yet the most resistant spirit is moved, and the solace of the congregation is evident as they share their stories with Ed and Jane. If compassion had a face, it could be theirs.

The McCarthys have performed the Service of Blessing and Healing here for the past 10 years.

“We come as a package,” Ed said in his gently witty way.

They are devout and observant Roman Catholics, but their instinct and practice is ecumenical. Their youngest daughter’s godparents are a nun and a Methodist friend.

They are not confined by the belief in the singularity of their religion.

“Over the years, we have found the presence of God in other people,” Ed said.

Ten years ago, Jane re-energized the Women in Ministry Brown Bag, which meets every Wednesday in the Hall of Missions. Ed organizes the Monday Brown Bag for the visiting chaplains at the Presbyterian House.

“They are among the beloved volunteers that make the Department of Religion visible but actively present and provide services that make Chautauqua precious to those who come,” said Maureen Rovegno, associate director of the department. “For those who discover the Service of Healing and Blessing, it becomes an invaluable experience. It really communicates what Chautauqua wants to be and do for Chautauquans. Ed and Jane embody the spirit of Chautauqua.”

Their personal life, as well as their faith journey, is a “marriage of two minds.” They married 54 years ago and have have six children and 21 grandchildren. Both were born and raised in Long Island, New York — Ed in 1936, Jane in 1938. Ed graduated from Villanova University, in Pennsylvania; Jane from Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. They were high school sweethearts and grew up in what both describe as an “Irish Roman Catholic ghetto of the mind,” where everyone they knew was Roman Catholic.

Their faith journey began when Ed’s career with Metropolitan Life Insurance brought them to Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was their first encounter with neighbors of different faiths. It marked not only the renewal of their practice of Roman Catholicism, but also an expanding and inclusive appreciation of the faith of others.

“A neighbor invited me to a Bible Study class at the Methodist Church, and I went,” Jane said.

Forty-five years ago, while living in Medina, Ohio, they collided with Cursillo, a religious renewal program, which set them on their path toward today. The Buffalo Cursillo website describes it as “A People Transformed in Christ through Faith, Worship, Witness and Service.”

During that time, Ed told Jane, “You have to wait for me” as he observed her growth in faith.

Her response: “I am not waiting for you.”

Ed paused and began the three-year Deacon preparation and study. Jane attended classes with him twice a week. Thirty-two years ago, he was ordained as a member of the permanent diaconate in the Cleveland diocese.

He served as deacon in St. Mary’s Church in Chardon, Ohio, and now serves St. Agnes Church in Naples, Florida.

Just a bit of history: The 1962 Vatican Council II restored the permanent diaconate, which had been a part of the early Church until approximately 1200. Married men were deacons then and are now. Deacons can preside at baptisms, funerals, marriages, and  they can preach. They cannot celebrate Mass, hear confession or anoint the sick.

German theologians attending Vatican II re-introduced the idea, Ed said. They had seen the efficacy of men ministering to other men in the German prison camps of World War II. For him, the diaconate was a way to ”truly give thanks” for the blessings of his life, his marriage and his six children.

“I have a friend ordained as a deacon whom I admired,” he said. “We still play golf together.”

Many wives, like Jane, are integral to their husband’s ministry. But their commitment, like Jane’s, is individual and personal. She is as involved in Florida as here in Chautauqua as volunteer at Avow Hospice, Immokalee School, a public school which serves the children of migrant workers, and St. Matthew’s House, a housing and homeless center.

The McCarthys entered the Chautauqua life via the lake.

“I grew up near the ocean and I wanted to be near water,” Ed said. “We didn’t know anything about Chautauqua Institution.”

They found a home on the lake at Niets Crest 26 years ago. Then they learned of Chautauqua Institution, were attracted by the ecumenical atmosphere and jumped in. They are members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 1994, members of the Chautauqua Catholic community, and all 21 of their grandchildren attended Children’s School.

It is 10:15 a.m., and Chautauqua’s morning bustle has begun. The Daily paper boy’s call, accompanied by the shuffle of feet and voices as Chautauquans head for the the Amphitheater lecture can be heard from the United Church of Christ Randell Chapel. But the noise seems to fade as Deacon Ed McCarthy and his wife Jane begin the daily Service of Blessing and Healing — banished, perhaps, by the presence of grace.