Many years ago we were told in college there was no church like the American church when it came to care, concern, commitment, and support. Sitting in my desk and hearing that, a light came on. That light has, to be honest, dimmed a little from time to time. Those words, said with such conviction has been always a beacon of hope, over these many years. The American church, has been lucky, can we say- blessed, to have people such as Dolly Echeverria..... The Faith Community of St. Andrew the Apostle, has been birthed, nourished, strengthened, and led to a growing maturity, by her tenacity and good-will. We were never warned, in our formation, about women like Dolly. We were on the other hand, warned about women, the opposite of Dolly. Strong women, which are women with strong voices, were not part of our training. Strong women were not a very visible presence with the Catholic Church in Ireland. In our history, we did have strong presences like St Brigit of Kildare. Some go so far as to say, she was a bishop, ordained, of course, by mistake.
In 1963, I was introduced, right away, to the power of an organized woman, with the ability to lead - Margaret King, may she rest in peace, was an executive with a very large company. I was given the responsibility for, what in those days was called, C.C.D.. I cannot remember how she came to volunteer, but I know she stepped forward, and was the parish blessed. Margaret showed how a person was able to take the skills of the workplace and use them for the betterment of the church. Dolly did the same. She demanded, from those who were in leadership roles in the faith community, the same standard of excellence she demanded of herself.
Today I am convinced every priest is in the need of a Dolly in his life, to keep him grounded, and connected. Grounded in his faith, and intimately connected with reality. We, as priests, can become very isolated. We are known then to be a sacristy priest. People such as Dolly blew that out of the water, as far as I was concerned. Whenever she began a sentence with the word “Joe”, I knew I was in for a “realty check”. I was going to get that reality check, whether I liked it or not. To be honest, there were times I received an ear full, of what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. No gossip…. just the facts.
Was I always happy about what Dolly had to say ? Of course not. My big fat Irish ego, did not take too kindly to the truth. You know what they say, “the truth will set you free, but first it will tee you off". When I had some alone time and was given the opportunity to reflect on what was said, I was faced with the question of “why was I angry?”. What was the perceived threat to my control? What was the fear that I had to face ? What was risk involved in, not only thinking about a new way of being, and doing in the church, but actually going ahead and taking the required action.
Someone has written, “There are many qualities that make a great leader. But having strong beliefs, being to able to stick with them through
popular and unpopular times, is the characteristic of a great leader."
Dolly led by example. No one was asked to do anything, that was not backed by her wisdom, and self sacrificing dedication. What is that old saying, "A woman is like a tea bag, you do not know her strength, until she is in hot water”. Dolly you were a strong dose of tea, brewed in the hot desert sun. You gave strength, and nourishment to so many. You were a voice for the voiceless. You were a beacon of strength for the powerless. You were a challenge to those who would use power for self gain. You held ALL leadership responsible to Gospel values - "When shall we see the like again."
There is that Jewish saying, " God cannot be everywhere, so that is why He created mothers". Mothers reveal to us an ever present love. They shepherd us, so we can come to the belief in that the Good Shepherd never leaves any one of His flock untended. A mother's love , commitment, and unswerving loyalty, makes it possible for us to believe in the unconditioned, unlimited, and unrestricted love of a God we cannot feel, hear, taste, or touch. He is after all, Spirit. He has however entered into the human condition. He has freely chosen the fully human person, however, to be his revelation.
St. Irenaeus wrote, "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." What an alive woman she was. Authentic human beings like Dolly make God look real good.
"There is in every true woman’s heart, a spark of Heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity." Washington Irving