by Augusta R. Mennell
At an age when many of us think it is time to stop serving others, Fern Fitzpatrick was in her prime. The countless photographs of Fern in our albums here at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center in Slippery Rock, Pa., highlight the service she gave even though she was in her eighties. The photos show the joy she found in serving others. This was true when I first met her, and it was true until she was called home to her heavenly Father earlier this year. I cannot think of Fern without remembering Gal. 5:22, which lists the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, and so on. For Fern, the fruit was joy, abiding joy.
Photo courtesy of author
In her senior-living complex, Fern was the first to volunteer to drive those without cars to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, and McDonalds, where she treated everyone to her favorite coffee. She didn’t share grudgingly. She gave of herself with pleasure, happy to know she’d helped others.
Fern brought that same loving spirit to our campus-ministry student center, where she was a vital presence. In our congregation, she made teddy-bear afghans for all the new babies. One member still remembers how much Fern’s gift meant, especially since her husband was leaving for Iraq. Fern crocheted hundreds and hundreds of small white starched angels to be hung on Christmas trees. She gave them to our campus ministry, and we made them available at Slippery Rock University (SRU) student orientations. Students and their families prized these angels, often coming back to our fellowship table. “One more, please!” they would say.
Fern never pretended to be a “saint.” Yet, her generosity and joy spilled over onto everyone, especially SRU’s international students. She doted on them, listened to their stories, encouraged them, and talked about her faith with them, and they remembered her.
When Madeliene from Bulgaria learned of Fern’s death, she called to say how much Fern had touched her life when she attended SRU. (Madeliene is now a first-year medical student at the University of Iowa.) Linda from Kenya, Malindra from Sri Lanka, and Sophal and Pitou from Cambodia all experienced her care and Christian concern through acts of friendship, all-you-can-eat pizza outings, and transportation to the grocery store and the malls. By her actions, Fern showed that all of us, no matter our age, can make a difference in serving our Lord. Countless students experienced Christ’s love through Fern.
Even in her last summer of life at Concordia Lutheran Ministries in Cabot, Pa., when Fern couldn’t remember how to knit or the names of the people she loved so much, she made a deep impression on the SRU students who visited her. Even in her old age, full of aches and pains, she shared her love—and also Jesus’ love—with them.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and among all the blessings that have been bestowed on me, my family, and All Saints Church, I am especially thankful for having had the opportunity to know Fern. What a blessing, and what a wonderful Christian inspiration she has been for me and all of us. This down-to-earth lady who loved God, her church, her family, and international students at SRU is proof that we are never too old to serve our Lord. Fern is an example of how the Christian life can be lived, even as long as 86 years. Thank You, God, for Fern.