Up Front and Personal

Conversations on a Park Bench With Albie

by Sister Ave Clark

On Saturday, July 15, I traveled to St. Fidelis Parish in College Point to attend a Mass of Resurrection for a man named Albie. I never met Albie in person, but I knew about him from my Dominican sister friend, Sister Ruth Lautt, OP. Sister Ruth coordinates the St. Fidelis Street Ministry that offers every first Saturday of the month to bring food and clothing to people in need. 

One of Sister Ruth’s outreach actions is to go to a small park a few blocks from the church off 14th Avenue where people who are homeless (men and women) sit on a park bench. It would be at this bench that Sister Ruth would befriend Albie and he would befriend her with his kind insights and how he would care for other homeless people, especially the vulnerable homeless women who came to the bench. Albie made sure they had a safe seat on the bench, especially at nighttime. 

Over the past year, Sister Ruth was able to get Albie into an affordable housing apartment … one nice room for him. I remember when Sister Ruth sent me a picture of Albie smiling in his new one-room home and holding his keys. He was deeply appreciative of how Sister Ruth helped him to handle his transition in such a respectful manner. 

After a short time at his new residence, Albie was not feeling well. He was soon to be diagnosed with cancer. Sister Ruth once again assured Albie she would help him to find a good place for treatment. Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in the city was to give Albie a few months of treatment. During that time the doctors and nurses also realized that they were caring for someone with a good attitude and a deeply appreciative heart. 

Soon the treatment staff would tell Albie and Sister Ruth that no more treatments would help, as Albie had terminal cancer. 

Sister Ruth was able to get Albie into Calvary Hospital. Albie understood that this would be the final part of his earthly journey. At Calvary Hospital, Albie exhibited a deep trust and a heart that was ever so grateful for the special care he received. 

I am sure that Albie and Sister Ruth had many conversations along the journey. I would think these conversations became holy times of sharing goodness, memories on the bench, honesty about one’s human condition, and a faith that had helped Albie in his struggles and losses and also in his moments of sharing his faith about caring for others. 

What struck me at the Mass of Resurrection was pastor Father John Francis’ compassion for all attending the Mass, especially for Albie’s brother who flew in from Hawaii over the past few months and for Albie’s final days at Calvary Hospital. 

His brother believed that despite Albie’s struggles with alcohol and homelessness that Albie in his own way became an instrument of God’s mercy and love. 

After the Mass, I went with a group of people, Sister Ruth, and Albie’s family a few blocks to the park bench to listen to some of Albie’s homeless friends share stories about Albie. There was laughter and tears, stories of hope and caring that Albie had shared with each one of them. 

But to me there was something more … a realization that we all need to believe that God loves us just where we are. Albie was not defined by his struggles. He chose to be defined, despite his struggles, by a deep caring, respectful and loving heart. 

I felt that I was given “graces galore” by being at the Mass of Resurrection for Albie and then at the park bench. Listening to Albie’s park bench companions reminded me that here on earth we resurrect time and time again when we care about one another. 

Albie for sure was an instrument of God’s peace. We are all called to be more than our fears, flaws, limitations, addictions, losses, sorrows. 

We are more … like Albie, when we learn to live a life that chooses in ordinary ways and sometimes in extraordinary ways to be a ray of God’s sunlight wherever we are … and sometimes on a humble park bench. 

Sister Ave Clark, OP, of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, L.I., works at Heart to Heart Ministry in Bayside.