OKLAHOMA CITY — First came Anna.
The 98-year-old woman was living alone on a diet of Ensure and coffee and weighed 77 pounds when a Catholic priest learned of her plight.
Then there was Isaac.
Diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only two months to live, he was about to be released from a hospital but had nowhere to spend his remaining days.
Others in need of hearth and home like Sam, John and Dale soon joined the “family” led by the energetic nun. Current residents Annabelle Miller and Lucy Cooper were also welcomed into the clan and the home never seemed crowded, only running over with the blessings of life.
This is the house that love filled.
‘Pilgrimage to our Father’s House’
The Oklahoman reports that on a recent afternoon, Sister Maria Faulkner and Cooper, 92, listened as Miller, 98, played the piano in the Gospel of Life Dwelling home adjacent to St. James the Greater Catholic Church.
The scene is at once homey and serene — two family members enjoying themselves as another member of their home shared her God-given talents.
It was moments like this that Faulkner, 54, envisioned when she came to Oklahoma in 2012 following an “unction” from the Lord based on an idea that her grandmother — a Purcell native — had to care for the elderly.
Faulkner said she had once thought that she was going to marry and have children after finishing school to become a registered nurse. She thought she would give the Lord a “gap year” after graduating from the University of Dallas but felt called to much more.
Accepting God’s invitation to live a life of consecration as a religious sister, Faulkner said she found herself serving in Paris for 15 years. She said she felt a divine call to return to her native Minnesota and, eventually, to join family members in the Oklahoma City area.
“It was an internal nudge, a kick in the pants, whatever you want to call it. It was almost an imperative for me to come,” she said. “I got a one-way Greyhound bus ticket from Minnesota to Oklahoma City.”
In Oklahoma, Faulkner joined St. James, where her aunt and uncle attended church. After they heard about her ministry idea, church leaders allowed Faulkner to set up the first Gospel of Life Dwelling (GOLD) in a house the church owned across the street. Faulkner said the ministry is run entirely on donations and currently includes four homes in Oklahoma and one in Texas. With 501(c)3 nonprofit status, the ministry has a board that helps oversee the ministry’s mission.
“Christian ministry is supposed to be bringing charity of the Lord into the lives of people and here with the Gospel of Life Dwelling across the street, you see a striking example of it,” said Father William “Bill” Pruett, pastor of St. James.
Faulkner said the premise of the ministry is based on the biblical principles of love, family and community. She said she experienced the challenges and joys of living in a home with extended family members like grandparents in their later years.
For older adults who don’t have the care and support of family due to life circumstances, the Gospel of Life Dwellings run by volunteers called “lifeguards” from throughout the community become home and family.
“God wanted them to experience the blessings of family if they hadn’t had it naturally,” she said. “They are on their pilgrimage to our Father’s house.”
Faulkner said the homes have sheltered and supported a diverse mix of people over the years, all embraced and loved as family members.
She said Anna, for example, agreed to stay only two months, but ended up living there for almost two years until her death when she was just shy of 100.
“She was kind of living like a recluse in her own home but she blossomed here. She ended up having a family life again with other people,” Faulkner said.
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City said the ministry provides welcoming spaces for older adults.
“This is a place where they can come and remember their dignity and experience their own dignity by the way that they are received and respected and loved by the members of GOLD, who really welcome them as Christ,” he said.
Miller said she has enjoyed her stay in one of the ministry’s homes.
“I like the way Sister is trying to introduce family life instead of institutional life for the elderly because it’s good for us. A lot of us have friends but we don’t have any relatives — they are either in nursing homes or in the cemetery,” she said.
“I never had a big family. I lost my birth mother when I was 3 months old, so I never had any brothers and sisters so this is a whole new world for me. We learn to broaden our love for people.”
A new project
Gospel of Life volunteers have converged on property in Norman to build what Faulkner calls the Holy Trinity Hermitage.
She said the structure will be a Gospel of Life Dwelling, with a chapel and space for individuals to go for personal prayer and reflection.
Already, a group of teen and young adult volunteers are scheduled to help make bricks and ready the property for the project but other volunteers and donations of equipment are needed.
If the hermitage project doesn’t fit the scope of someone’s time or talents, Faulkner said she always welcomes people who may be able to help with everyday life at the Gospel of Life Dwellings.
Current “lifeguard” volunteers Yolanda Garcia of Oklahoma City and Lisa Garza of Yukon said they each enjoy serving residents at the homes.
Garza, a member of St. John Nepomuk Catholic Church, helps with gardening, laundry, cooking lunch and whatever else is needed when she visits.
Garcia met Faulkner when she was attending services at St. James. She said she wanted to fill a need in the community so she joined forces with the energetic nun.
Faulkner said Garcia has a God-given knack for caring for others. She said the younger woman ended up developing a special bond with Anna, the ministry’s first resident.
Others may find that they, too, may provide some comfort or support for the homes’ residents.
“I would really encourage each and every person, no matter their age, however young, however old, to take time in the silence of their hearts and say ‘Lord, what do you want of me? What do you want of my life?’ and see how God inspires, how God tugs, how God calls and then, if it be in His plan for you, come be a part of GOLD be it for an hour, a week or a lifetime,” Faulkner said.