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In 1953, Ann Vereecke sat her daughter Patricia down for an important talk. Patricia was only 5-years old, but “the talk” was one that would form her for the next 60 years.
Today, Patricia Vereecke lives in Chicago, Illinois, and is a medical specialist at Loyola Medical Center, where she fields emergency calls for 67 doctors. Among many of them, but more intimately among her two children, 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, Patricia is known for her devotion that stems from “the talk” with her mother as a child.
“There are two saints that you always want in your corner,” Ann Vereecke said to Patricia in 1953. “One is St. Ann, for health issues, and the other is St. Jude. For anything that seems beyond your reach, or impossible, talk to St. Jude. He doesn’t work the miracles, but he intercedes with God.”
In the house where she was raised, Ann brought Patricia and her older sister Theresa up in the Catholic faith less than a block from St. Joseph and St. Ann Shrine [later renamed Our Lady of Fatima]. Ann attended every annual Novena to St. Ann from the year she was born until she died at age 95. Once a month, she would take Patricia to the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.
Ann’s devotion inspired Patricia’s own.
“I was having a lot of difficulty with reading in school. I wasn’t up to par. I would have needed a tutor, and she took me to the shrine and told me to talk to St. Jude, to pray to him, ask him for help,” Patricia recalled. “You’ll do your part, you’ll do your homework and practicing. She bought me a medal, put it on me and said, never take this medal off. From then on, I began to start reading, it was easier, I wasn’t as frustrated.”
Patricia’s home is a modest two-story brick building with light green painted cedar exterior, and six steps that lead to the sidewalk. Visible from the front yard, a small statue of St. Jude Thaddeus sits on a table visible through the window. Inside, two couches face a small television set, surrounded by DVDs, mostly children’s cartoons.
Behind one couch and along the adjacent wall, which also houses a small piano, every inch of wall space is covered with framed photographs. In each picture, a child is posed in the pious portrait tradition of the Catholic sacraments—Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation.
Somewhere, as in the homes of each of Patricia’s children and grandchildren, there is always a St. Jude candle burning. Her prayer life is a busy one. It has become her legacy. She is compelled, if not called, to share her devotion with the children in the photos, who now have children of their own.
Norman Vereecke, Patricia’s youngest of three great-grandchildren, is just three months old. He was born with a genetic Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder (OMD), in which a newborn’s tongue is only half the width of normal, and his gum line and jawline are bigger than his mouth. He has had a feeding tube leading from his nose down through his throat since he was born, unable to suck—and therefore unable to eat.
“The doctors said he was never going to be able to use his mouth to eat,” Patricia said of baby Norman.
In his short life, Norman has spent much of it in three different hospitals, was first tested for Cystic Fibrosis, and then Cerebral Palsy. His ability to suckle is so weak, he tires after a few attempts, saliva builds up, and he chokes. Norman has a heart monitor and an oxygen sensor he must wear 24 hours a day. When his oxygen level drops, he is rushed into the hospital.
Norman’s parents, only teenagers, do their best amidst the obvious struggle.
“We’re not giving up,” Patricia said. “I’ve always prayed to St. Jude for things that seemed like they were never going to happen.”
Inspired by her devotion, Patricia blessed Norman with St. Jude oil in the hospital. Almost immediately, the newborn began to suck on a pacifier. As grateful as she was, Patricia knew that type of instant response was rare, even for the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes.
“You can be in the silence of your own room, it doesn’t matter,” Patricia said. “Just talk to him. Don’t say it doesn’t work until you’ve tried it with your entire heart. To be good at anything, you’ve got to do it repeatedly. It has to be something you’re sincere about.”
Patricia passes this advice, along with the initial encouragement she received from her mother, along to her descendants, hoping they too will embrace devotion for St. Jude. With it, she has supported family members through substance abuse, serious illness, teenage pregnancies, unemployment, and legal problems. She buys them St. Jude medals to wear, just as her mother did for her. Most of all, she is steadfast in her encouragement of regular dialogue with and faith in St. Jude.
“It took time, maybe three years in some cases, but I never gave up,” Patricia said. “It’s not going to happen in a day, but you have to believe and you have to talk to him.”
Now, she takes her grandchildren to the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus, where they pray and give thanks for prayers heard.
“I feel rejuvenated,” Patricia said. “There are numerous times when I’ve gone to him and felt it was going to be okay. He didn’t give me a day when it was going to get better, but I got the sense that he was hearing me.
“He has never let me down,” she continued. “I’m trying really hard with my children and grandchildren. Sometimes there has to be something really important or scary in their life to make them come and trust.
“People believe, that’s why those candles are there,” Patricia said. “If you read the intentions, you can tell they believe.”
When Ann Vereecke was buried, Patricia went straight to the Shrine of St. Jude to buy a candle and a plaque to be placed that October. Her candle is right in the front at the base at his feet.
“As a tribute to my mother, who so believed and taught me and my sister to believe, I want to impress upon my two children and 10 grandchildren to try, be honest, and see that it works,” Patricia said.
— Patricia Vereecke
In the current economy, Catholic education is often unaffordable for young families on the South Side of Chicago. Still, Patricia won’t let dollars stand above devotion.
“It’s important that they know God,” she said. “Where their life takes them after I’m gone is beyond my control, but I know I’ve done my part.”
Beyond sharing her own spirituality with her 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, Patricia is also Godmother to all 13, and has paid for CCD for each grandchild, so they could make First Communion and Confirmation—and make her wall of fame.
This month, baby Norman will have his feeding tube removed, and receive a new tube in his stomach. The doctors have never been overly optimistic, but that does not sway Patricia. After all, now even doctors at Loyola ask for Holy Water from her.
UPDATE FROM PATRICIA
Over his two and a half years of life, Normie (baby Norman) has had eye surgery to help his vision. This will have to be redone when he is around six years old. He is still being fed through the tube in his stomach. He is running and playing, like all other 2-year olds. He is sounding some words, and is learning sign language.
Our family and friends know of St. Jude’s great intercession with God for Normie. There was another great intercession in my family from St. Jude for my daughter Kimberly. In 2003, Kimberly became pregnant and miscarried a baby boy. In 2004, she had another miscarriage of a girl. Depression set in, but faith and prayer to St. Jude brought us and Kimberly twins born February 21, 2006—a boy (Cory Jude) and a girl (Emily Ann), three pounds each.
There were some health issues but through prayer and St. Jude’s hand, they are growing into a fine young boy and girl. They made their First Holy Communion. Visits to St. Jude’s shrine and daily prayers are the key to life’s treasures.
I thank God for all my family’s blessings and St. Jude for helping my prayers be more pleasing to God.