R.I.P., Lisa Calderone-Stewart
It was with great sadness that we heard the news yesterday that Lisa Calderone-Stewart, a pioneer in urban youth ministry, died last Friday in hospice care in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
I had the privilege of getting to know Lisa by working with her on some of the writing she did for U.S. Catholic magazine about youth ministry. Over the past two years we exchanged quite a few e-mails as she wrote reflections for a moving and brave online journal here at U.S. Catholic called "Final Thoughts." In those blog posts Lisa reflected on the spirituality of living with a terminal cancer diagnosis (in October 2009 she had been told that she had only six months to live).
A big fan of U.S. Catholic magazine, Lisa enjoyed telling me how she had strategically placed her U.S. Catholic coffee mug during a 2010 TV interview with a Milwaukee TV station (see -2:45 to -2:35). She wryly added, "I'm sure your sales department noted the bump in subscriptions from the Milwaukee area after that news story!" And in one of her last e-mails she told me that in an as-yet unpublished novella that she had written this year, "two characters (a priest and a person doing the parish mission) mention how U.S. Catholic is their favorite magazine! A little 'product placement' for you!" And for good measure she let me know that the character doing the parish mission was named Alice (after our mutual friend and U.S. Catholic scripture columnist, Alice Camille). Lisa really was one of our biggest fans.
Last month Lisa told me how the doctors now "just can't seem to be able to stop this pain. We have tried about a dozen different meds. The only time I don't hurt is when I'm sleeping. Then I wake up, and the pain begins again." But then she still managed to express her delight in seeing her Advent reflection on page 34 of the December issue of U.S. Catholic, where she had reminisced about making crafts (for Christmas presents) with her then-young sons. "Wait till I show them," she added. "They will laugh."
In typical fashion, Lisa, who gave so much to so many, wrote her last blog post for "Final Thoughts" about the blessing of being on the receiving end of love from her family and the people who loved her.
What is it that makes our friends and family so willing to say yes, despite the ugliness that terminal illness brings? How can they continue to love you when almost everything that made you lovable and delightful disappears?
It’s one of those great mysteries of life.
When people love us that fiercely, they are so very much like God. The less 'lovable' their loved one seems, the more they resemble God in their gift of loving.
How many times have we read or heard that 'God is love'?
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
Knowing this is nice. It’s lovely theology. But being on the receiving end of it is simply divine.
Our hearts go out to Lisa's sons, Michael and Ralph, and all of her family and friends in Milwaukee. We urge you to consider honoring Lisa's legacy by donating to her life's work at the youth ministry program she founded, Tomorrow's Present.
Thank you, Lisa, for running (and swimming!) the good race and for being an inspiration to so many of us!