Traditionally, Our Sunday Visitor publishes stories of why Catholic readers around the country converted --…
An icon of courage and faith
Note: On April 21, at age 53, Deirdre McQuade surrendered her spirit to the Lord. This article was published prior to her passing. May she and all the faithful departed rest in peace, and may her memory be eternal.
As I write, a pure soul, Deirdre McQuade, is spending “most of her time beneath the gentle waves.” That’s how one of those closest to her explains her days, in what are almost certainly her last on earth. She “continues to rise to the surface every so often for a minute or less.” During Holy Week and Easter, she and her housemates and sister found themselves inundated with yellow flowers, as she loves the cheerful color.
Deirdre has been so courageously fighting cancer. And in the way we’re supposed to — understanding that we are not promised a particular length of days, or to live without suffering. She has radiated joy in the midst of chemotherapy. She has evangelized in hospital rooms.
One of the things she is known for is handing out the Litany of Trust prayer, written by one of the Sisters of Life. It’s about humble trust in God, and she doesn’t have to hand out those beautiful words, because her life has been a glorious song, an ode to her Creator in love for the life she has been given as a gift from God.
The last time I worked with her professionally, when she was working for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on pro-life issues, she was working on end-of-life issues. She was a compassionate advocate against doctor-assisted suicide and for palliative care and other merciful alternatives to assisted suicide.
Deirdre introduced me to a woman named Maggie Karner. She had watched her father deteriorate at the end of his life. She reflected later, as she faced her own terminal diagnosis: “He taught me how to live and die with faith and with dignity marked by patience and grace. He taught me that dignity can’t be diminished by pain or loss of personal control. Regardless of our circumstances and whether people acknowledge it, nothing and no one can take away our God-given dignity.”
She was brutally honest about her own illness: “I am certain my God hears my cries, which are sometimes angry, sometimes frustrated and sometimes exhausted. I know this because Jesus also cried out to his Father in pain and showed me that God can handle our questions, our fears, and our uncertainties.”
In 2014, at the death of another icon of courage and faith in the face of a terminal diagnosis, J.J. Hanson, she and her colleague, Greg Schleppenbach, wrote announcing his death: “Given only four months to get his affairs in order when first diagnosed in 2014, he sought a second opinion with a medical team that was willing to fight for his treatment. Sadly, his cancer returned late in 2017, and he passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family after receiving hospice care.”
Now Deirdre is in this same position. And every moment, excruciating as it can be with pain and the sure knowledge that life is at its end for family and friends, has dignity. She has dignity. Playing God in ending life prematurely is not worthy of the gift of life God gives us. It closes us off to unexpected graces only God can give in the purifying, humbling, even humiliating moment of our lives, when we are most vulnerable.
I can’t really pretend to know what Deirdre would say if she could say some last words of teaching about what she has learned about her suffering — though I expect those closest to her will share before too long. But she would be delighted if we all got to know the late Sister Thea Bowman, who Deirdre has had as a close friend and intercessor in her cancer battle. She, too, had cancer. And she said something that Deirdre has embodied: “I believe that there are kinds of healing. People are praying for healing for me. I want to be healed. I don’t know what that means in God’s infinite plan, but it’s not problematic for me. If it means to heal the body, thank you, God. If it means to heal the spirit, thank you, God. And I know the healing is already happening.”
Her witness, if taken under humble, prayerful consideration and inspiration, can help heal us all, through the grace of God.
Please pray for Deirdre and all who love her. Which is quite a crowd — and growing. Thanks be to God.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.