Every so often we attend the 5 p.m. Saturday vigil mass at St. Mary Catholic Church. As we enter the worship space, we always walk past a parishioner sitting in the back row. He chooses this spot because it allows space for his wheelchair. Toward the end of communion, Fr. Jeff Lewis will walk out to him and administer the blessed sacrament via syringe. It is always a touching moment to see both the man’s reverence and respect for the sacrament and Fr. Lewis’ dedication to make sure that he receives it.
Up until a couple months ago, I didn’t know much about this faithful parishioner. But at one of our Young Adult Catholic meetings with Fr. Jeff and Fr. Kevin Oiland, I learned some sobering and powerful information. Fr. Jeff opened up about the wheelchair-bound man named Garth Fritel, disclosing that he has ALS. He talked about Garth’s faith and then mentioned an effort he was going to spearhead.
Venerable Aloysius Schwartz is on the track to sainthood. Fr. Schwartz lived an extremely holy life in which he set up Catholic communities in some of the poorest countries on the planet and saved thousands and thousands of lives. He did this while battling ALS himself.
Fr. Lewis gathered the St. Mary community to pray to Fr. Al for the healing of Garth. If successful, it would help Fr. Al’s canonization process, establish a patron saint of ALS, and, most importantly in my eyes, cure Garth. A grounded man, Fr. Lewis has tried to manage expectations by saying there is no guarantee for healing but prayer is always a worthwhile endeavor, especially when the cards are stacked against you.
But for a moment, I just want to focus on Garth and his wife, Adeline. If you have not read the article yet, please do so. Seriously, read it. The piece written by Kevin Wells of National Catholic Register is simply superb.
Garth had it all. Important job, beautiful family, and a genuine love for life. Then ALS hit. The savage disease ravaged his body over the course of five years and now he is unable to move any body part below his neck. He needs to use a computer to communicate. His parents moved into his house and they help Adeline provide Garth with 24/7 care. At least 12 times a day, he has to have his throat sectioned to clear it.
The attitude that both Garth and Adeline embrace is beyond inspiring. Garth has accepted his illness as his cross. As Fr. Al described it, they are nailed to the ALS cross. Like Fr. Al, Garth frames his ALS as a sign of love and special favor from Jesus. Garth’s life is extremely difficult and he has found himself in dark places, which the story does a phenomenal job of describing, but he has chosen life over the prospect of quitting.
The love and loyalty that Adeline has for her husband is pure and unwavering. Instead of bitterness, she focuses on the blessings generated by Garth’s ALS, quantifying them as “too many to count.” The way Adeline compares her family’s suffering to that of the Stations of the Cross will blow your mind.
Perhaps no other part of the article painted a more vivid picture in my mind than nightly prayer for the Fritels. They gather every evening and identify a blessing from the day. Garth always has one. Always.
Please keep Garth, Adeline, and their two children in your prayers. Let us pray that they continue to draw on their strong faith and that Fr. Al can provide healing if it is God’s will. What an inspiration. Don’t Blink.