Dear Family of Mary TV, Apostles of the Gospa of Medjugorje:
My wife tells me my updates are boring. “All you do is give messages from Our Lady, one after another….People also want to be hearing from you…. You should be telling them stories!”
I can’t think of anything more boring than me talking (I already do it enough during the Rosary)…. And I can’t think of any more exciting words than Our Lady’s messages. Nothing else is giving light these days. And every one of them carries grace from heaven! “I speak for your salvation,” she tells us!
But she did ask:“…for this time to be for all of you, a time of witnessing. You who live in the love of God and have experienced his gifts, witness them with your words and life that they may be for the joy and encouragement to others in faith.”(9/25/11)
OK. I’ll tell you a story. This one happened thirty five years ago. It begins with Our Lady of Guadalupe and is connected to Our Lady’s November 25, 2020 message i.e., reading Scripture, seeing miracles around us, etc… It brings me a lot of joy to remember,,,,
A priest friend, Rev. John S. Dunne, CSC., suggested that my wife Cathy and I go on a retreat with him during Lent. The CSC’s owned a house on a lake. The three of us could use it for a Saturday. That was all the time Cathy and I felt we could take away from the children.
We each brought something to share on the retreat. I brought a message from Our Lady in Medjugorje. (Back in those days I’d make copies and hand them out on street corners!) Fr. Dunne had the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe translated from the original Aztec that he wanted to read to us. It was given to him by an old monk on top of a mountain in Oregon where he had given a retreat several months earlier. We had Mass and prayed. Cathy shared what she felt the Lord was saying to us during our prayer time, and John read the account of Our Lady’s coming to Juan Diego.
Halfway through the retreat, I became distracted by the room we were in. Someone had added this room onto the house. It had windows all around, and was a very comfortable place to pray. The thought struck me that I too could add a room onto our house. I thought it would be a place to pray and be big enough also for the kids to play during the winter when it was too cold for them to play outside. And maybe it could be big enough so that sometimes we could set up a ping-pong table!
Cathy thought it was a crazy idea. Our seventh child was to be born that summer, and it seemed I would need to get a summer job. I was teaching “Theology” at St. Joseph High School, right across the road from Notre Dame. My starting salary five years earlier had been $5,000 a year. I didn’t have any money to build. And I didn’t really know the first thing about how to do it. When I was little my father had built our house in California out of adobe bricks….I hadn’t a clue how to use wood. Cathy’s arguments made sense. But I knew that God loved families. He loved children. And kids needed room to play. Winters in Indiana were just too cold for them to play outside. Adding on a room made a lot of sense to me!
I sat right down after getting home from the retreat and prayed, explaining to Jesus we needed more space with six children and another one on the way. “Jesus, everything Cathy says is true, but I know you love families and you love kids. We need this room. If you bless it, I’ll start tomorrow. If you don’t, even though I think it’s a great idea, I won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. What do you say?” Opening the big Jerusalem Bible my eyes fell on a passage giving the dimensions of a room: “Fifty cubits by fifty cubits,” the measurements for the foundation of the Temple. When my eyes fell upon the sentence, “With windows round about,” that was it! I knew I could find second hand thermal pane sliding glass doors, take the frames off and use them as windows. I had seen some at Lakeville Salvage for $10.00 each.
Starting the next day I went to a neighbor’s garage and paced off his ping-pong table to get an idea for how big the room needed to be. (Not to get ahead of the story, it ended up being 18 feet wide and 30 feet long!)
The first thing I had to do was cut down a pine tree next to the house where the room would be built. The wind was blowing towards the house….when I started up the chain saw the wind changed directions and was blowing away from the house….after the tree fell the wind resumed blowing towards the house! (You don’t forget these kinds of details. This job would be filled with them.)
Someone told me that a foundation in Indiana needed to be below frost line, 33 inches deep, and so I started digging. I bought 500 used cement block from a guy down the street who had them piled in his yard. Made numerous trips driving them the one block to my house. Poured the foundation. Got sand and cement. Borrowed Perry Pence’s cement mixer and laid the block. Then put a 2” by 8” board on top for a sill. That was the end of my knowledge.
I figured I could get used wood from buildings being torn down. One Saturday it took me all morning to snake out one eighteen foot long 2” x 12” from an old bar coming down on Notre Dame Avenue (“Frankie’s” when I was a student, later ND grads may remember “The Library”).
And I needed forty 2” by 12”s, each twenty feet long! Realizing my plan getting used wood wasn’t going to work, it would take years to scrounge the wood, I prayed, “Jesus, give me money so that I can just buy the wood I need and I won’t have to get a second job for the summer. I can build!” The next day, Cathy told me her father phoned: “We hear Denis is building a room. How would you like to borrow some money? But we know you can’t really pay it back, so just see it as a gift. What would you like me to send? $20,000?” I told her to ask for $5,000. Several days later she received a check in the mail for $10,000. God bless her dad. He ended up sending me his credit card so I could just purchase whatever materials I needed when I needed them.
Not knowing how to build, I had called an Amish construction company in Nappanee. They said they could start in a month. It would cost $450 dollars a day, and that was just for labor. His last words: “Of course, we’ll need the plans.” Plans! Plans! I thought, “Plans? That’s what I called you guys for!” I had no idea how to get plans. I told him I’d call him back. I needed to talk it over some more with my wife. I didn’t need to talk it over with my wife. She already thought the whole thing was crazy. What I really needed to do was pray!
I went out under the patio enclosure and asked the Lord if He’d help me. We could do it together. I didn’t hear any voice. The only way I can explain it is that I got a “shot” of adrenalan! Two things came to mind. First, the Lord had said that He would bless it (receiving that passage giving the dimensions of a room). Also, Jesus was a carpenter. Maybe Jesus would enjoy helping me, 2 x 4 by 2 x 4, putting this room together. It would be like a vacation for Jesus! Right after that prayer I had the confidence to begin. I remember taking a skill saw, guessing at the depth of the blade, and cutting right up the side of my house where I figured the two structures would join.
I measured out the first wall. Someone had told me to use 2 x 12 headers. “What’s a header?” I was told you just nail two 2”by 12”s together. Most of that whole wall would be windows, so the header needed to be strong. It would have to hold a second floor. I nailed it in place. The end wall of the room was eighteen feet long and only had six inches of wood (4 two by fours), the rest would be windows (sliding glass doors). And it too had to support a second floor. I remember a neighbor stopping by to see what I was doing telling me it would never work because there needed to be siding to keep the wall from collapsing. Just for decoration I purchased several hand hewn beams from an old barn being torn down. I thought they’d look rustic. Little did I know that the way I placed them across the first floor ceiling, header to header, would give necessary support solving that problem. But I had just put them up because I thought they looked nice.
Then went up the next wall and then the next. I asked someone how you build a second floor, and he said, “The same as the first!” So we went ahead – just Jesus and me . I only had Jesus helping me (and an occasional friend, like Matt Hunckler and my son Sean to help lift things).
Once someone did stop by, Brother Alberto Bondi, who also taught at St. Joe. He happened just when I was putting down the first floor…. so I gave him a glue gun so the plywood would be glued and not just screwed…. if he hadn’t shown up I woujldn’t have glued at all. That turned out to be important because of all the wear and tear that floor was going to endure….
Actually the whole job was very enjoyable. When you don’t know what you’re doing it’s easy to pray…. you just get in the habit. And that always brings joy….especially the more you need to trust. The more joy it brings.
Next came the second story floor and the second story walls. Next would come the roof. When my father was visiting that Summer he told me when it came time to tie the two roofs together to be sure to hire someone to do the job… otherwise for sure I’d be plagued with a leak where the two roofs joined.
When it came time to build the roof, I called a carpenter I had been told worked at Big C Lumber Company. Bill McCluen came out. Taking a slow look around, standing on the floor of the second story, he said, “OK. I’ll build your roof. I’ll be here on Monday morning to start.” He dropped his work belt and some tools on the second floor and left….
As he drove his car away I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I had committed a mortal sin…. Watching him drive away I said, “OK Jesus, if this job is really like a vacation for you, you want it to be just you and me and you don’t want me hiring anyone… have me never see him again. Have him never come back!” To this day, all these years later, I have never again seen him…. (When I brought his tool belt and tools to Big C Lumber Company so he could get them back, they told me he had quit working there and had left town)….
So I set about making a roof. I couldn’t figure out from a book how to determine the angle for rafters, so I just took a 2” by 6” and guessing, drew a straight line on the board at an angle with a pencil. After cutting it, that board became my pattern for all the rafters. It worked perfectly. I needed 45 of them, two every 16 inches. The roof was 30 feet long!
When I got to the end I had no idea how to tie the two roofs together….the roof of the addition I was building to the roof of the house. I remember just sitting there thinking… and of course praying…. when all of a sudden the thought popped into my head: take two 8’ long – 2” by 4”s, frame a little 4 foot high wall, and carry it up and tack it along the very peak of the house. Don’t tie two roofs together. Go right over the roof of the house and make a third story!
And that’s what I did. I remember when I had the little wall nailed together, Jerry Faust’s son, Jerry Jr., showed up with some of his friends from St. Joe High. They helped me carry the wall up and hold it in place as I tacked it onto the peak of the house. It was very simple. It worked. I’ve never had a leak. And that third floor became a favorite place for my kids to play, and now for grandkids to play.
In those days I always carried a hammer and a crowbar under the front seat of my car…. in case I came upon a building being torn down and I spotted something Icould salvage…… and so that’s how I got the beautiful oak stairs leading up to that third floor…
When I began I was told I needed to get a building permit. We live in the city (a couple of blocks from Notre Dame….How Our Lady gave us this house is another story.) When I went to the County City building to get a permit I was told I had to have plans. Plans! There was that word again. I asked for a piece of paper and drew a little sketch of “an enclosed porch.” That got me the permit.
I remember after enclosing the walls after I had done the electrical work, I was told, “Denis, the electrical inspector is going to want to see all that work. He’s going to make you tear out all that sheet rock!” That day in class my prayer was, “The electrical inspector is coming today and I’m told he’s going to make me tear out the inside walls so he can see my electrical work…. pray with me that Our Lady takes care it and I don’t have to tear out those walls.” My students and I were always praying for everything… Everything I needed. Everything they needed. We spent a lot of time praying together. And our prayers were always answered!
That day the city electrical inspector was too busy, so the county electrical inspector was sent instead. He passed everything. In fact when the final building inspector came after the project was all done, he had only one complaint. It was all too well built. I remember his exact words: “You could drive a semi across the second floor. It’s overbuilt!”
The second floor would become bedrooms. It took two years to finish, and during that time all the kids slept in one room… Every night mom would read to us all together. It was heaven. She went from having two closets to having nine closets.
And that 1st floor room became a place of prayer. It seems we never remember getting the ping-pong table out.
When Notre Dame got its first web page (only students knew how to set things up for the university)….the web page opened up to four categories: Academics, Athletics, Social Life, Spiritual Life. And when you clicked on Spiritual Life, two things came up: Knights of the Immaculata…and Children of Mary…with an announcement that on Wednesday nights ND vans would be waiting at the circle to give rides to any students who wanted to go pray the Rosary at the Nolan’s house.
That room became a center for prayer for a lot of years. And from it later for years (see above) Cathy and I would pray the rosary daily through Mary TV with Our Lady’s children on six continents. (I don’t know the number, not necessarily many, and I don’t care to know. I believe Our Lady said that every time we prayed in response to her call from Medjugorje, she’d come and pray with us. It’s Our Lady praying with us that makes it a joy!
God bless you,