By Father Ryan Moravitz
Craig and Lori Norrell already had three children who were all in their pre-teen or teen years. Life was good. But Lori had a deep sense that God wanted more for them. She started praying for Craig to be open to reversing his vasectomy, as she was sure God had greater desires for them as a family.
Then Craig went on a retreat during the spring of 1998. Lori prayed for him the whole time; in fact, she had been praying for seven years that they would somehow miraculously have more children. It was during this retreat that Craig’s heart was touched by God to reverse the decision he had made, and, knowing he was being called to be faithful to God, Craig followed through.
After a year of saving money (insurance won’t pay for a reversal) and being told multiple times by his doctor that the reversal only has a 50 percent chance of success, Craig reopened his life and his marriage to the possibility that God’s heart may have more children in mind for them. One year later, with great joy, Brianne was born, and Mallory followed within the year — Irish twins as they say. Neal was born six years later.
It is their story as a family, which includes their three oldest (Ryan, Candice, and Kyle), that I am inspired to share with you.
You see, as I write this, it was one year ago yesterday (Nov. 7, 2017) with her family, medical team, and four beloved priests around her praying the Hail Mary, that Mallory, at the young age of 16, gently went to the loving, heavenly embrace of her Savior after a ten-and-a- half-month battle with cancer.
Their entire story all seems so heroic and dramatic to me. And indeed, it is. I’m not talking about a drama like Hollywood, but a Passion-of-Christ- like drama. One of trust, tragedy, and redemption.
Yesterday, Nov. 7, the Norrell family and I gathered with some of Mallory’s friends at her gravesite in Embarrass. We prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy, read Scripture, and told a few stories. Mallory loved all three of those things, as she was a fun, loving, and holy kid … who faced both life and death with Jesus.
Mallory brought a lot of joy to life. She loved hockey, “Lord of the Rings,” praying, reading, hunting, being with people, Camp Survive, adoration, and Mass. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. While Mallory was in the hospital, she would often look up puns. And as her mom lovingly recalls, after sharing a pun with smiling eyes and a grin, Mallory would say, “I’m so punny.”
I often think of how much St. Peter would have missed out on if he had not abandoned himself to fully following the Lord: walking on water, witnessing and performing miracles, the crucifixion, Easter morning, being crucified in Rome. He would have been spared the agonies but missed the beauty.
Craig and Lori Norrell, and their family, are a witness like St. Peter. They could have been spared the agony of experiencing the death of their beloved daughter and sister but would have missed the beauty of a saintly young woman. They chose life, and indeed life has been given!
Mallory’s story is one of heroic virtue. She encountered Christ in so many beautiful aspects of life. She also faced illness, suffering, and death in a way that bore witness to many who encountered her. She lived the motto she embraced from St. Padre Pio: “pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
Mallory Norrell lived this in a way that has evidence to say she is a true Servant of God. This deep, abiding, heroic trust in Jesus is a grace God gave her through her parents’ deep and abiding trust in Jesus. There are so many good, holy families living in God’s loving will. You experience the fruit of his abundant love daily. Thank you! You, like the Norrells, bear witness to the generous Mercy of Jesus.
I believe stories like Mallory’s and her family need to be shared more often. So, I decided to share it with their permission. The dream of Mallory has been in the heart of God for all eternity. I am so grateful Craig and Lori allowed the dream in God’s heart to come true and be shared with us all. We are so grateful for Mallory.
Mallory Norrell, pray for us as you approach the throne of our loving Savior, that we might live lives, as you said yourself, “worthy of heaven.”
Father Ryan Moravitz is vocations director for the Diocese of Duluth and pastor of St. Lawrence, St. Joseph, and Holy Family in Duluth.