Happiness, for Constance Wall, is sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee as her music-loving children practice their instruments. A jumble of notes, scales, and song fragments wafts in from every corner of the family's Bucks County house.
Wall finds it a heavenly cacophony because each of her three children--even the youngest--takes part.
When the children were very small, Wall, a faithful Catholic, began a custom of gathering them together for late-afternoon prayer. They took time to discuss what they should pray for and presented the intentions to God.
They added another custom as well. Wall, like her grandmother before her, was an admirer of Blessed Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphia socialite-turned-missionary nun. So she often had the children ask, "Blessed Katharine, please intercede for us."
They always ended with an Our Father, placing special emphasis on the phrase, "Thy will be done."
The prayer time also allowed mother and children to regroup, to talk about their feelings and concerns. The days found them scattered in many directions, with Wall usually out on a hunt for medical and educational help for her youngest child, Amy.
The girl, now 7, was in the process of being diagnosed as incurably deaf.
During that period, Jack, now 14, never knew whether his mother would be there when he got home from school. Jeanette, now 11, was often shuttled off to a baby-sitter.
In their little circle, Constance Wall prayed to do well at her unusual calling and asked that her children accept God's will for their deaf sister. She and the children prayed to be able to communicate with Amy and to find her the best schooling possible.
"I was determined to be the best 'deaf mother' I could be," said Wall. "We said grace in sign. Sign language letters were all around my kitchen." Her husband, John, a real estate developer, was even seeking a new job in Washington so the family could move close to Gallaudet University, an institution of higher learning for the deaf and hard of hearing, where they planned to send Amy to school.
Though the medical experts were unanimous in advising the family to accept Amy's condition as permanent, young Jack insisted they pray for a cure. Wall's instinct was to shield Jack from the disappointment of a prayer unanswered.
She asked Mother Drexel to help her explain. "I heard a little voice in my head, and it said, 'If the children want to pray for this, let them pray for this.'"
So she let go of her grip on the possible. The little group agreed to pray for Amy's cure, again through the intercession of Mother Drexel. They even obtained a relic from Mother Drexel, who died in 1955--a piece of cloth from one of her gowns--and held it to Amy's ear. To Wall, a relic is "like your father's sweater--it makes you feel close to him" after he has died.
Within a week after beginning to pray for a cure, she was shocked to hear from Amy's teachers, "This is a hearing child."
"I had been told it was not possible," she recalled. "I was told to 'mourn the death of your hearing child and accept this one.'"
|"I heard a little voice in my head, and it said, 'If the children want to pray for this, let them pray for this.'"|
When Amy began to speak, her mother said, she spoke not in baby talk but in sentences, pointing with glee to the humming refrigerator, for example, and saying, "I hear that!" She no longer had to place her hand on her mother's throat in order to listen to a lullaby.
The now 42-year-old former computer programmer knew the formal prayers of her church, but found in Mother Drexel a model of conversational prayer. But it was the nun's simple prayer for "potatoes" for the hungry children in her charge that made Wall feel that here was someone she could relate to: "Besides what's obvious--that Mother Drexel gave up her life to help others--to be able to say that one word, potatoes , it just touched me in a certain way." "Katharine Drexel prayed 'potatoes,' and I prayed 'Amy.'"
Today, the restoration of Amy's hearing is the second miracle attributed by the Catholic Church to the intercession of Mother Drexel, and it paved the way for her canonization on October 1.
Why go to Mother Drexel when she could have appealed directly to God?
"I realized that Blessed Katharine Drexel was like me in her method of prayer. I felt a kinship. I was almost saying to her, 'You understand. Please, please put it in better words for me.' You don't say, 'Blessed Katharine Drexel, give me a miracle.' You say, 'I feel close to you,' almost like you would to your own mother and sister. I have this problem, and I don't know how to handle it, and because she was a saintly woman, she could help me get my words right."
John Wall, 41, was until recently a practicing Baptist. He did not pray to Mother Drexel with his family. "He didn't believe in saints," his wife said.
Since Amy's healing, he has converted to Catholicism and has developed "a better understanding than I have" of the faith, his wife said.
Many people also look askance at the Catholic belief that saints can play a role in miracles. In the words of Pope John Paul II, such healings, duly verified, "are like a divine seal which confirms the sanctity of a Servant of God whose intercession has been invoked."
For all of Constance Wall's love for Mother Drexel, she would not say that Amy's cure depended on the holy woman's intercession. But today, she says, "I think I pray almost with every breath." Often it is to Mother Drexel, and often it is in thanksgiving for her family's ordinary life.