What’s special about April 9, 2017? Oh, right — it was Palm Sunday. It was the beginning of the holiest week in the church year. It was (this day in history) but was there anything, anything else important about that day?
Of course. It was the 152nd anniversary of Lee’s surrender in the Civil War. It’s the 136th anniversary of Billy the Kid being convicted of murder. It’s the eighth commemoration of Honda winning the Green Car Award in 2009. Could there possibly be another special occasion on that day, though?
April 9, 2017, was the day on which thirteen people in Okolona, Ky, commemorated Ms. Rita Appreciation Day for the first time ever.
Ms. Rita Bernauer is the sacristan at St. Rita’s where we have youth Mass. It was Ms. Rita who taught Michael Schultz how to play organ. It was Ms. Rita who took over piano and organ when he left for seminary. And it’s Ms. Rita who comes hours early every Sunday in order to prepare the altar for Mass, turn on the lights and sound, say a Rosary, and be there to welcome us all when we come. She’s there no matter what. Are John and Michael in Poland? Is the entire choir gone on a pilgrimage? Did her cousin just pass away? — She’s still there. And in addition to all that (as if it wasn’t enough already) she’s always got a smile on her face. She might be stressed about finding us palms to have blessed, she might be in grief, or any other number of things, but she always wants to be there and talk to you. In the words of several choir members, “she’s the glue that holds us all together.”
Ms. Rita Day was Holly Ray’s idea. One Sunday, she said, “we all need to show Ms. Rita how much we love her.” And this was the idea borne.
They were small gifts – a box with jewelry, chocolates, a Rosary holder, and an icon of St. Rita, a card, and a little planter of spring flowers. We hid them on the steps to the choir loft.
After Mass, most of the choir took Ms. Rita back to pray in the sacristy – something the choir’s been doing for a while now. John and I ran back to the choir loft and got intercepted by Mary P’Oryem, who needed her daily hug. She got conscripted into carrying the flowers. All our rushing attracted Olivia Ulrch and Matthew Flaherty, who followed us into the Adoration chapel.
“What’s with all the rush?”
“Shhhhh! It’s Ms. Rita Day!”
“Why are they praying for so long?”
“Go go go go go!!!!”
“Actually, Ms. Rita, Zoe and John left to get something. I don’t think you know, but today is Ms. Rita Appreciation Day, and we just wanted to give you a little something to show you how much we love you.”
“What did I do?”
This one reply, repeated at least three times, sums it up best: “what didn’t you do?”