Browsing The Northern Cross

Parishioner turning 108 still lives at home 

By Father Richard Kunst 
For The Northern Cross 

The priesthood affords me the opportunity to meet so many different people, which is a great part of working in ministry. Every so often I get to know a person who really makes an impact on me, a parishioner whose story is uniquely impressive. My current assignment as pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in the western part of Duluth has one such person.

Father Richard Kunst poses with Agnes, a parishioner who has been a member of St. Elizabeth in Duluth for more than 100 years. (Submitted photo)

Allow me to introduce you to Agnes, who will turn 108 on Jan. 15. Her family has asked me not to use her last name, because she still lives at home alone, and they feel more comfortable with a certain level of anonymity. 

To put her age into some historical perspective, she was born before the outbreak of World War I. The year of her birth coincided with the very first electric traffic light which was erected in Cleveland, Ohio. It was also the year Babe Ruth started his professional baseball career with the Boston Red Sox. 

When I first heard of Agnes, I was shocked to hear that someone her age was still living in her home and not in an assisted living facility, so I had to go meet her, and I have to say, Agnes is pretty impressive. 

Though she still lives alone, her son Ed and daughter-in-law Gloria travel from Stone Lake, Wis., every week to stay with her for a few days in the house Agnes and her husband John purchased in 1942 for $3,400. Every time I have visited her, she has been sitting in the same chair, surrounded by family pictures hanging on the wall, and across the room from her chair is a framed letter from President Donald Trump that Agnes likes to point out: the president sent her the note on the occasion of her 106th birthday, back when she was younger! 

I asked Agnes if she has been a member of St. Elizabeth for her entire life, and she said, “Only since I was three” — that’s 105 years — although she did, in fact, receive all the sacraments at St. Elizabeth. 

The first priest she has memories of was Father Pirant, who she says was very stern and rigid. She was confirmed at the parish in 1926 by Bishop Thomas Welch, who had just been named Duluth’s third bishop. 

In the 105 years she has been a member of St. Elizabeth, she has been much more than just a parishioner sitting in the pews. Agnes was very active and successful in helping raise the funds for the current church building, which was erected in 1957. She tells the story of all the different events she helped head up to raise the money, including rummage sales and bake sales. Laughing, she says, “We sold potica by the slice!” 

She also took her once a month turn in keeping the church clean and for many years served funeral luncheons. She said her whole social life was wrapped around the life of St. Elizabeth, and she is well remembered for that. Every parishioner who has been around long enough knows who Agnes is, and they are pretty proud to have her around still. 

When you have the opportunity to converse with someone who has reached such a ripe age, there are some basic questions that seem so appropriate to ask. When I asked her what she attributes her longevity to, she did not miss a beat with her quick answer, “hard work.” What invention most impacted your life? “The wash machine! That Maytag was a miracle. Up to that point I used a wash board.” 

I asked her what her earliest memory was, and she struggled with that one a bit. She said, “Playing games I suppose, but I do remember very well when my younger sister died of diphtheria.” That, too, was 105 years ago. 

Other than being hard of hearing, Agnes is as sharp as a tack, quick as a whip, and has a great sense of humor. My last question for her was another typical one: I asked her what sort of future she envisions for herself, and she laughed, saying, “For now it isn’t very long.” 

I find myself bragging about Agnes fairly often, because I don’t think too many of us priests have a 108-year-old parishioner, let alone one who still lives alone in her home. Agnes is a great, faithful Catholic who loves to receive the Eucharist every time I visit her; her Catholic spirituality is abundantly visible, and her life is a sign of God’s grace in a particular way by the sheer number of years God has given her. 

Happy 108th, Agnes, and many more!