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Mary Weber and Gary Meister: ‘a God of surprises’

Mary Weber and Gary Meister pose for a photo with Jude Okpalannaka.

Mary Weber and Gary Meister of Indianapolis made their first commitments as Providence Associates in November 2008. Sister Marceline Mattingly was the companion for this couple. Among their many ways of serving others, Mary and Gary have opened their home to a Providence Cristo Rey High School student, Jude Okpalannaka.

1.) How did you and Gary become interested in Providence Associates?

I found out about the associates while in Rome for Mother Theodore’s canonization in October 2006. We were in line at the Vatican Museum early in the morning. It was still dark outside. Sister Marie McCarthy told me about the relationship and invited me to look into it. My husband, Gary, was unable to be in Rome. When I got back home I told him about it. Sister Marie Kevin Tighe also told me that her niece, Ann Kevin, who was a classmate of mine had become an associate with the first group.

2.) Did you know Sister Marceline Mattingly prior to starting this journey?

Oh, what a wonderful story! I stayed at the same hotel in Rome as the sisters. I wanted to experience the events with them and “through their eyes.” I also hoped to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones! Sister Marceline and I were chatting in the hotel lobby. We had not met before. We remember some of the details differently. She says that I commented on her last name as being a “Kentucky name.” I do not remember that. What I remember is that Sister Marceline said that “my great-great-grandmother was born Mary Frances Raley in Waverly, Ky.” I said, “Spell that name, please.” She said, “R-A-L-E-Y.” I said, “Sister, I was born Mary Frances Raley, and my dad’s parents were from Waverly, Ky.” Can you imagine my surprise? Now Waverly is a tiny town. So there we are looking at each other knowing that we must be related. The wonder of the moment was captivating and amazing. It was such a God moment. Imagine going all the way to Rome to meet a “cousin.” I use the word loosely.

More thoughts on this. Waverly was settled by Irish Catholics who branched out from Bardstown, Ky. Those settlers came from St. Mary’s Co., Md. This movement out of Maryland by these folks was a freedom of religion issue. Maryland was becoming repressive towards Catholics. Both the Hagans (my grandmother’s name) and the Raleys made this migration to Waverly. The other thing that strikes me about this connection with Sister Marceline is the Providence of the experience. Our God is certainly a God of surprises. Sister Marceline means the world to me. She is a soulmate, a mentor, a spiritual companion and now family! There are some similarities in our personalities, some people even think that we look alike. We truly enjoy being together. She is our Provident God’s gift to us. My husband, Gary, has bonded with her as well. Boy, did I get carried away!

3.) What has it been like for the three of you to go through the Spiritual Integration Units?

Sister Marcie, Gary and I spent an incredible amount of time on the material in the handbook. She visited us in our home spending days with us at different times. We also sent her things in the mail and talked regularly by phone. Sister does not do computers! Gary and I often joked that we earned a master’s degree in the Sisters of Providence spirituality during this formation and discernment time. For us, as a married couple, most of our reading, discussing and pouring over the materials was enriching. We spent many, many Saturday mornings with each other and our handbooks. On long car trips, I would read aloud.

For Gary understanding God as Providence and our call to be Providence in the world were new concepts. He was raised Lutheran in a strong anti-Catholic environment. Not that the concept of God as Providence is for Catholics only. For us as a couple, Providence spirituality is also marital spirituality. It is how we want to live out our vows together. The units were not just to be studied intellectually but were to be experienced. My favorite ancillary reading was the Practices of the Sisters of Providence. Married couples will find that taking the journey to become Providence Associates is an enriching and deepening of the marriage. We found ourselves sharing thoughts, feelings, hopes and prayers that perhaps we would not have done in a less structured manner. We were also able to focus on being Providence as a couple.

4.) Share with us about the Providence Cristo Rey High School student who is living with you.

The student is Jude Okpalannaka. He is originally from Nigeria. His family immigrated to the United States eight years ago and live in the Baltimore area.

Gary and I read in the school’s newsletter that they were desperately looking for a home for Jude. He was a student here last year. All the other students live in the Indianapolis area. Jude did well last school year. He and his parents wanted him to return and the faculty and staff wanted him back. We talked about it, and we prayed about it. I put the newsletter behind Mother Theodore’s plaque in our guest room! By the way, that plaque was a gift from Sister Marceline. I said to Saint Mother Theodore, “If you want us to do this, help us and guide us, please.” We are in our 60s and had some huge reservations. One of my biggest concerns was getting Jude to school. We live on the northeast side of Indianapolis. The school is on the other side of downtown and it is quite a distance from our home. Gary works near downtown but is a cancer survivor and I am protective of his rest. He would have to get up quite a bit earlier to take Jude to school.

Well, Providence reigned! Two people from our parish take him to school! Everything else fell into place. You asked why we did this: what a specific way to share in the ministry of the Sisters of Providence! Gary, who is a CPA for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, wanted a concrete, definite way to share in the work of the sisters. Well, here it was!

5.) What is it like having a high school student living with you?

Having a high school student living with us has really changed our lives. Sometimes it is chaotic, never dull and is certainly challenging! Jude is a fine young man. He studies very hard and is on the basketball team, too. He is very respectful, grateful and polite. We laugh a lot and enjoy his presence. I cook a lot more. Jude is a skinny, tall kid who is still growing. He is 6 feet tall and very active. I try to watch his nutritional needs. He eats everything that I serve and then some! He helps with the chores and does his own laundry, ironing, etc. He has bonded with the older grandkids and has been welcomed wholeheartedly by family and friends. Jude has a deep spirituality. He “sees” God everywhere in his life. Isn’t that refreshing for a 16 year old? We are certain that this relationship is a gift from God.

6.) What do you and Gary think about this new high school?

We are passionate about Providence Cristo Rey High School (PCRHS) and very proud that the Sisters of Providence are administering the one here in Indianapolis. What a waste it would be if these young gifted students did not get a chance to reach their potential and dream their dreams. We love the partnering with business and corporations and see the wisdom in that joint venture. I believe that Saint Mother Theodore would be delighted that her daughters are at the helm of such an endeavor.

7.) Share with us about your family.

Gary and I have been married for five years. We were both widowed. I have three adult children and seven grandchildren. Gary’s late wife, Jackie, had children from a previous marriage, but he has never been a dad. He is a wonderful grandpa to my grandchildren and has been a great “host parent” to Jude.

8.) What commitment will you and Gary be making for the next year?

We promised to pray for a deeper awareness and appreciation of Providence in our lives. We committed ourselves to works of love, mercy and justice in the service of God’s people and specifically we opened our home and family life to Jude Okpalannaka.

9.) What do you and Gary do for a living? What hobbies do you have?

I am happily retired but still do pastoral ministry as a volunteer at our parish, St. Pius the X. Gary is the director of Financial Reporting for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. We both love sports. We enjoy being with family, especially the grandchildren. We travel as often as possible. We enjoy water aerobics. We treasure nature in each of her seasons. I love to garden, cook, read, reflect and take photographs.

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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