“Prayer lady” Kathy Fraser, right, Elizabeth Ministry coordinator of St. Andrew parish, Gibbsboro, sits with Elizabeth Ministry volunteer, Julie Waicus and her two children, Darcie, 6, and Jackson, 8. Darcie and Jackson have Angelman Syndrome, a genetic condition. Kathy says of Elizabeth Ministry and Julie, “The fact that women share their trials and tribulations, their joys and sorrows, their tremendous faith or their doubts has strengthened my faith in God, in my church, and in these women.”Helping others to appreciate pregnancy and children through compassionate outreach and mutual support is a vocation Kathy Fraser deeply embraces.
The 57-year-old mother of five children (four living), and grandmother of four, has spent the last nine years as the Elizabeth Ministry coordinator of St. Andrew Parish, Gibbsboro, planning Masses for pregnant women and those waiting to adopt, preparing spiritual care packets for parents of newly baptized children, and visiting mothers who are ill or who have recently given birth.
It is through the one-to-one sharing of personal experiences, praying with and providing encouragement to women as they journey through motherhood, that this “prayer lady” has earned her name.
Elizabeth Ministry is a parish-based outreach in special times of motherhood. It is based on the scriptural story of the Visitation — Mary and Elizabeth in their ministry to one another during their pregnancies. Women reach out to one another during the joys and sorrows of the childbearing years, not as counselors or experts but as individuals who provide support and mentoring.
According to Jeannie Hannemann, co-founder of Elizabeth Ministry International, the ministry “fosters a companionship based on personal experience, formal knowledge, the acquired skills of the participants, and the mutual love of God.”
Fraser simply hopes her life experiences can act as an inspiration, or even just as a barometer, for others to decide how to handle certain situations.
Julie Waicus, an Elizabeth Ministry volunteer, can attest to the fruitfulness of that one-to-one sharing.
Waicus met with Fraser at a St. Andrew Parish Elizabeth Ministry gathering just two days after she received the diagnosis for her son, Jackson, of Angelman Syndrome. Waicus describes this rare genetic condition as affecting all areas of functioning, including being nonverbal, having seizures, and life long mental delays. Waicus’ daughter, Darcie, was subsequently diagnosed with this condition as well.
“Kathy was there for me from the beginning. She was a good shoulder for me to cry on,” Waicus said.
At an earlier Elizabeth Ministry gathering, Fraser had shared that she had grown up with a younger brother who has Down Syndrome. “I grew up loving and defending (Danny) and how he was treated.”
Hearing that, states Waicus, “helped me to realize I was not alone…. Kathy took me under her wing and mentored me. She shared what her mother did for her brother, Danny, in learning the lessons of life.”
Because Jackson and Darcie have such happy, outgoing personalities, but can’t express themselves with words, they communicate through physical actions. They use sign language, sometimes of their own invention. According to Waicus, Jackson puts his hands together in a prayer fashion whenever he sees Fraser because he knows her from church.
The family has since affectionately dubbed Kathy the “prayer lady.”
Being out at public events with the children is especially stressful for Waicus and her husband, PJ. Much energy is spent helping the exceptionally joyful children remain quiet at appropriate times.
Says Julie, “They appear normal but don’t act normal.” It is particularly hard to go to church as a family. Julie would like to help her children experience a sense of community, to feel included. “Kathy has helped to raise awareness and sensitivity to these issues” in the parish community through Elizabeth Ministry, aiding the family in staying connected to their parish and receiving support from other parishioners.
Msgr. Ciaran O’Mearain, pastor, who describes Fraser as “an amazing, dynamic person,” says of the parish Elizabeth Ministry that “it is an area of parish life that is very significant. It draws people into sharing … a great good brought about.”
For Julie, it is an opportunity to reach out and support other parents who have children with special needs, offering the love and support she and her family have received.
Through Elizabeth Ministry, the sharing of life experiences brings a caring commitment and a sense of connectedness.
What is at the heart of it for the “prayer lady”? “Everyone’s life is valuable.”
Cathy Cipolone is the Camden Diocesan Elizabeth Ministry coordinator.