Faith and fun, secrets to a long life

Julie Filby

Isidora and Jack Shirkey didn’t always have a car while they were raising their three boys in Aurora. Isidora was a stay-at-home mom and Jack a medical technician. But even when finances were tight, they managed to keep date night a priority.

“I used to babysit during the day, all week long, to make money so we could get a babysitter on Saturday night,” Isidora, 100, reminisced from her room at Mullen Home where she has lived the last seven years.

The couple, married in 1941, would take the bus from their home to the University of Denver to watch the Pioneers play hockey, her favorite sport. Another one of their favorite events was the National Western Stock Show. She hasn’t missed a stock show since 1941, she said, including a trip earlier this year.

“I go out more now than I did before I lived here,” she said. “Every day we’re busy here.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate Mullen Home supported by a professional staff and more than 60 volunteers, take residents shopping and to plays and restaurants; as well as surprise them with what Isidora called “mystery trips”—trips where the residents don’t know where they’re headed till they get there. Destinations have included the mountains and churches around the state. They also have activities such as crafts, games, exercise and baking.

“This is a wonderful place,” she said.

“I don’t feel 100,” she added, “heavens no, I feel like I’m 50 or 60.”

Isidora is a member of a small group—just .02 percent of the population, or 55,000 who have celebrated a 100th birthday, according to an April 2014 report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Four-fifths are female, most widowed, and 17 percent live in poverty, with a mean retirement income of about $12,200 per year. Isidora is currently the only centenarian at Mullen Home.

The Little Sisters have cared for Denver’s elderly poor at their Highlands location for 95 years. The 10-acre campus includes 17 apartments for independent living, five assisted living units and 42 intermediate nursing care rooms. The sisters live in the home and are available to residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure attentive care.

“I have everything here!” Isidora said, including the opportunity to continue to live out her faith.

She attends daily Mass at the home’s chapel, a commute that’s much easier than it was growing up in the small town of La Jara outside Alamosa where she was the 11th of 12 children of Ramonacita Gonzalez, an immigrant from Spain, and Encarnacio Romero from New Mexico.

“We’d walk to church with mother every Sunday, four miles, to the great big church in Capulin,” she said, where she and her mother sang in the choir.

“The church had a beautiful marble alter,” she continued, “I wish I could go see it now.”

Her father, a sheep herder, would spend months away at a time. Seven of the couple’s nine daughters became nuns. They prayed the rosary together as a family.

“Every blessed night,” she recalled, “we would kneel down with mother and pray the rosary.”

Today Isidora prays the rosary two or three times a day.

“Mary’s the Mother of God,” she said of her devotion to the Blessed Mother. “She’s my saint, I pray to her all the time.”

She prays mostly prays for her family, she said, her sons Michael and Larry, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and one on the way—as well as for Jack and her son Terry who have died. And she thanks God for her life and her good health.

“I have no pain,” she said, other than some occasional arthritis in her finger. “I’ve had a great life. I always made sure I had fun, whatever I did and wherever I went, and I have a lot of fun here at Mullen Home.”

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!