Helen Reilly died eleven days short of her 100th birthday. A person can do a lot of living in that amount of time. I didn’t know Helen, but I learned something truly remarkable about her in the homily of a mass one Sunday at my home parish.She was a graduate of Marquette and had been a second grade teacher at MPS’s William Cullen Bryant School for 14 years. Those two counts alone qualify her as someone to honor on our Marquette Educator blog. But there’s more.
For the record, Helen’s husband, John, had served as a Wisconsin Assemblyman representing Wauwatosa and as a Milwaukee County Civil Court Judge. Their marriage produced two children, Jane and Peter, and in turn, two grandchildren. A fulfilling family life is certainly worth celebrating, too.
But it’s another fact that truly sets her apart. She was a daily communicant. Our priest told us that Helen had attempted to attend mass and receive the Eucharist every day since she made her first Holy Communion, probably around the age of 8.
He estimated her number of trips to the altar at 30,000 times. If my calculations are correct, though, it’s probably closer to 33,000. Maybe it seems like splitting hairs, but let me give you a lens on just the 3,000 difference.
A “Little” Perspective
I’ve been going to Communion pretty much weekly for almost 50 years, and I figure my highest possible total would be 2600. Since my attendance hasn’t always been stellar, my number is probably a fair amount less.
In other words, my entire count of Communion visits at its most generous doesn’t equal Helen’s rounding error. It will take me roughly eight more years just to reach that amount. In fact, if I aspired to equal her overall total at my current rate, I would need to live to the ripe old age of 715, still short of Methuselah by 254 years, but obviously a ridiculous lifespan nonetheless. Even Moses only made it to 120.
Please know that I mean no disrespect to Helen by interjecting these comparisons and references. On the contrary, I am simply trying to make a point that qualifies as both profound and memorable.
Living the Marquette Mission
Recently I had the good fortune to connect with Helen’s daughter, Jane. She told me that her mother had a deep love of education and passed it along to her children. She also recounted a recent experience that gave her insight on the impact her mother had exerted in the classroom. Her words were as follows:
An incredible thing happened about 2 months before her passing. A young woman, who is a caretaker at St. Camillus, came up and introduced herself to me. She said that she was shocked when she saw my mother. This woman – about age 35- 40 – had mom as her 2nd grade teacher. She expressed nothing but fond memories of my mom. It was so thrilling to think that someone remembered her after all those years.
There is one more aspect to Helen’s life that her daughter shared with me, and it bears mentioning. It turns out that Helen was religious in a very different way. How? She almost never missed a Marquette basketball game!
So, please join me in celebrating Mrs. Reilly’s long life, one that surely enriched her family and friends and touched many urban school children in wonderful ways.
And let’s celebrate her receipt of the Body of Christ — done with such frequency that, one foot at a time would measure exactly 6¼ miles high. That’s got to be pretty close to Heaven, which seems only fitting.
by Bill Henk