A word from Carolynne:
In 1982, I began spiritual direction in West Paterson, New Jersey, and decided that someday I wanted to become a spiritual director. During the 41 years in between I made several starts, but the time and circumstances were never right until October 2019 when my husband Roy and I went with the Franciscan Center on a ten-day pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy. I clearly remember the moment I stood in the front of the bus, looked at all the other pilgrims and said to myself, “This is the family I want to be part of for the rest of my life.” I slid into the seat next to Sr. Mary Jo and asked her if she would consider me for the next Spiritual Direction Training Program. She told me to apply, then gave me a big, beautiful smile and a little nod.
Six months later, I was accepted to begin in the September 2020 cohort. For me, the 40+ years of waiting for the right time to begin this new pilgrimage became a reality. In June 2022, I stood before everyone assembled at our graduation and announced, “My name is Carolynne Fairweather and I AM a Franciscan Spiritual Director.”
Pilgrimages come in many forms. On Valentine’s Day 2023, I learned I needed open heart valve replacement surgery. As I mulled over what that meant, I made a decision. I could either worry about it all the time, stress over it, read everything I could on the internet, and prepare to lose the life I’d known. Or I could go on a six-week pilgrimage to a new heart.
During those six weeks, which coincided with the Season of Lent, I prepared myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for surgery and I asked my family and friends across the world to join me by surrounding me with their good wishes and prayers. On the Sunday before surgery, my church blessed my green prayer shawl and a beautiful comforter that had made for me, filling them with their prayers and blessings. (See the photo below.)
On the morning of March 31st, I placed a small temporary tattoo of a cross under my right index finger. Prior to the anesthesia, I asked the whole operating team to come close so I could speak with them. I pointed to the cross and told them that my life had always been and continued to be in God’s hands. I told them that I believed it was through God’s hands, their own hands, hearts, and minds were trained to operate and do their best. Then I told them that if anything went wrong during the surgery and I didn’t make it, they were not to agonize or blame themselves or play the “shoulda, woulda, coulda, or if only game” because it would mean that God was ready for me to come home to Him and that I would be happy and healed no matter what happened.
Five and a half hours later, with one repaired and two new valves in place, the minute my sister placed the prayer shawl over me, she said my eyes flew open and the nurses were able to remove my breathing tube. Two hours later, I was sitting on, then standing next to the bed. I walked to the door and back that same evening and went home on the 4th day after surgery. No one could have predicted such a swift recovery, but I knew it was because of God’s goodness, the pilgrimage preparation I had done, and the prayers, thoughts, and blessings of everyone I knew that accompanied and undergirded me before, during, and since that time.
I finished 12 weeks of Cardiac Rehabilitation on July 21st and left for two weeks in Ireland with my family on July 24th. Thanks be to God! Without the Franciscan Spiritual Center’s programs, spiritual direction, the Spiritual Direction Training Program, and their retreats and pilgrimages, I wouldn’t have been able to think about and design my own six-week pilgrimage to a new heart.
I am so grateful for the abundance of hospitality and love that emanates from everyone involved with the Center. I support it with my time, talent, and treasure and I humbly ask you to consider supporting the work done there, too. Visit them on the Marylhurst campus and see what is possible for your own life and soul. You will always find a warm Franciscan welcome there!
Click here to read more stories in the Season of Franciscan Giving series.