Jennifer Hager's story is one of determination rooted in faith. It's about not letting life's challenges stop you from serving God and the Church.
Born in Ohio in 1983 with what she refers to as "learning differences," Jennifer understood that she would learn differently than other people. "It just means you have to learn different ways to be successful." It hasn't stopped her from living a life of service to God and the Church.
While in the hospital in junior high, she recalls waking up in the middle of the night and "having a vision of Jesus looking down at me." She saw big bright light with Him on the cross. Jesus said to her, "Don't be scared, just keep going no matter what happens." That important message stayed with her through graduating high school, completing the
at National Louis University, losing both parents in back-to-back years in 2006/2007, and devastating illness.
After completing the PACE program, Jennifer lived on her own in Chicago while working at a pet shop for five years. She proudly recalls being an assistant supervisor who opened the store each day. It was during this time that God called her to become active at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University. One of the campus ministers worked with her and she became a lector at daily Mass. It was during this time that Jennifer began to discern a call to religious life. She spent time with several orders including the Benedictine, Missionary, and Resurrection sisters.
Then entered the most challenging time of Jennifer's life. What started out as routine gall bladder surgery led to a perfect storm of hypothyroidism and spinal issues. She also began to have seizure like activity. She went from living on her own to being confined to a nursing home.
After a couple years of physical therapy, literally trying to re-learn to walk, she says the staff just gave up on her ever getting better. As she laid in her nursing home bed, she dealt with CNA's who mistreated her. When she started to do the physical therapy exercises on her own in her room, she could hear them laughing on her.
Such a difficult and demoralizing situation made Jennifer turn to God even more. She said, "it just made my faith become stronger each day - even on those days that I thought I wasn't going to make it, my faith kept me going." Then after four years of being at the nursing home, Jennifer moved from being bedridden to a rollator walker to walking on her own.
Jennifer has two older brothers. Charlie is a pilot for John Deere. He's her legal guardian. When she was released, he wanted her to come to Davenport to live in a group home.
Thanks to bus transportation and parishioner friends who give her rides, Jennifer has found a home to serve God at St. Anthony's. Back in the summer, Mike Jacobsen took Jennifer under his wing and supported her in becoming a lector at the Saturday evening Mass. Most recently, she has become a communion minister. She says, "It feels good that I can be helpful."
Jennifer still feels a call to religious life, but the orders she has contacted since leaving the nursing home are no longer interested due to her previous health issues. Most recently, she found out that she could lose "benefits" if she continued to work her three day a week job at McDonald's in Bettendorf. In typical Jennifer fashion, she asked if she could donate those three days a week as a volunteer at St. Anthony's.
About working at St. Anthony's, Jennifer said, "Working here has been really great. It's made me happy to see people who are poor get the help they need. I don't need the money I was making at McDonald's to be happy. Just giving here at St. Anthony's makes me happy!" It makes us happy too, Jennifer to have you on our Church's team.
P.S. One other thing I forgot to mention is that we have a gold medalist in our midst. When not at St. Anthony's, Jennifer competes in Special Olympics - softball, bowling, volleyball, basketball, swimming, cycling, and softball throw. Look out fellow Olympians nothing can stop her!