by Fr. Pat McNulty.
"Hell-o! Madonna House. This is Diane. Can I help you?"
I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many of you over the years have heard that voice of Diane Kunz when you phoned Madonna House. But you won’t hear it anymore.
At 2:00 a.m. on October 30th., after a long and lingering illness, while she was surrounded by family and friends, Our Lady of Combermere took Diane Kunz home to the Lord. Her voice is now reserved to sing the praises of God.
Diane and I were very close friends for over forty years. It was a friendship which began long before she joined the Madonna House family, and so it is my special privilege to weave this final tale of the valiant, hidden life of a dear friend. Where to begin?
Well, I went quietly to Our Lady of Combermere whose statue Diane must have passed a million times since her first visit in 1968.
What came to me immediately was the awareness that even though her life had its own vocational focus as a daughter, a sibling, a wife, a single mother, if one looked deep enough, one could find, from the beginning, a mysterious connection with the Little Mandate before she ever knew there was one.
"Arise – go!…Take up My cross…follow Me…Go into the marketplace…I will be your rest."
Diane Valeria Kunz, the first of three children, was born on June 25, 1935, to Al and Esther (Schreiber) Kunz, from neighbouring farms in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Signs of the Great Depression were everywhere and jobs were hard to find.
When Diane was two years old, her father went to work on a carnival and pursued that business for the rest of his life as did one of the sons as well. Al Kunz eventually owned one of the largest "shows" in North America and the name Kunz is an honored name in that business even today.
So it was that all the children would be deeply touched by life in that bizarre carnival marketplace to which Diane would often have to return…"Go into the market-place and stay with me."
I can see now that it was Diane’s mother, Esther—I called her Queen Esther—who managed to guard the childlike hearts of her children from a potentially tempting and sometimes dangerous environment.
So when, as an adult, Diane returned to the carnival to make a living, many was the time when she, with childlike abandon, would step in and break up a fierce fight on the midway or bring a wounded or vulnerable "carnie" to sleep safely in the back of her truck overnight or give a little cash to someone to carry him over till payday.
The "carnies" loved her because she lived their life but was not afraid to call them to Christ.
"Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you."
Diane was a very active teenager, well-known for out-performing any boy her age in most sports, and yet she was "lady" enough to model at a local clothing store.
In 1956, when she was 21 years old, she met and married a young Lutheran seminarian and soon became a "preacher’s wife."
After a few years they settled in Ft.Wayne, Indiana where I was assigned as a parish priest. So it was that in 1967, I first met Diane, her husband, and their three children, Cate, Annie and Joe—ages 10, 8, and 2.
Little did I know that very soon, by 1973, I would be called to walk with her and the family through a traumatic time. That was when her husband divorced her, and she and the children were cast into a darkness she had never known and out of which she almost did not survive…
"Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you."
But it was in this darkness that the Spirit called her into the Catholic Church where she found a new life in the Eucharist and a new love in the Blessed Sacrament.
During those years, I would often find her in my parish church late at night after her work or early in the morning before she went to work, resting or weeping before the tabernacle…
"Pray always. I will be your rest."
Though she tried desperately to keep her three children together, she had to return to the carnival full time in order to survive financially. The children were with her in the summer, but they had to stay with family and friends for school in the winter.
The fact that her children could not be with her was one of her greatest agonies, always tempting her to revenge toward their father who did not provide…
"Love – love – love, never counting the cost."
And once again, in pain and darkness, the Spirit came, and this time he gave her the saints. Her travel trailer was littered with books on every saint she could get hold of.
One of her favorites was Catherine Doherty, who was a saint as far as she was concerned, and one whom she had personally met when she and her whole family came to Combermere to visit me in 1969 while I was there for a time.
From that moment on, Catherine Doherty and Our Lady of Combermere quietly moulded her life into this Madonna House vocation while also touching the hearts of each of her children in a blessed fashion.
And from 1976 until 1982 when she once again returned to the carnival-marketplace she began to "see" the Little Flower as well as Catherine Doherty (who was still alive) in all sorts of unexplainable circumstances.
She said nothing to me about any of that until many years later because, as she said then, "I just thought that was what Catholics and saints were all about."
In her many travels she and my sister Jane, from Atlanta, Georgia met and began a long-time friendship. Both were by then deeply formed and protected by the spirituality of Catherine Doherty.
And so when I called my sis to come help me scrub and paint a second house which the bishop had just allotted me for more poustinias in the diocese, Diane happened to be there visiting Jane, and together they drove to Ft. Wayne "just to help for a few days."
Six years later Diane was still there, and together we were both learning more about doing "little things, exceedingly well…" little things like cleaning sinks and toilets, emptying wastepaper baskets and vigil light containers, scrubbing floors, washing windows, doing the dishes, mowing the grass and, of course, answering the forever-ringing telephone.
Year by year, her ties with Combermere grew deeper and stronger. In 1989, it was obvious that the doors of the St. John Neumann poustinias would close, and Diane began in earnest the last steps toward her Madonna House vocation.
It is not unusual for some whose spousal responsibilities have changed to think about joining Madonna House, but it is quite unusual that the Spirit actually calls them to this vocation.
Suffice it to say that Jean Fox, then the director general of women, tested Diane in every which way for a very long time before she was certain that it was Our Lady of Combermere who was calling her here and not Diane’s neurotic needs or desires.
She was in her mid fifties when she became an applicant, and with astounding energy she kept pace with the younger folk as they all learned a whole new way of life, which we call "Nazareth."
After Promises, Diane spent a few years in the field and then she returned to Combermere where she once again learned more about doing "little things exceedingly well" with love, little things like scrubbing floors, washing windows, cleaning toilets and, of course, answering the telephone.
Indeed, her twenty years in Madonna House went quickly and then, quite unexpectedly, in the final years the Spirit put a belt around her waist and took her where she would rather not have gone (Jn. 21:18)
Her health began to decline with all sorts of bizarre bodily ailments—some of which names she and I couldn’t even pronounce at first.
Gradually she became less and less mobile. It was agony for her who once had had so much physical stamina and energy to end up unable to do much of anything and to be in so much physical pain all the time.
This is what Catherine meant when she said to us, as she often did, "What you do matters—but not much. What you are matters tremendously."
In the last few years, until perhaps a month or two before she died, Diane was not permitted the luxury of seeing clearly how profoundly Our Lady of Combermere had been teaching her all those years to have the heart of a child and giving her the courage to just live it out day by day.
There were no great signs of sanctity or mystical wonders, just … "Preach the Gospel with your life – without compromise" until 2 a.m. on October 30, 2010.
I had the privilege of being with her as she died. And she died like a little child, unable to do anything but breathe in and out until she breathed no more.
All the while her three children, Cate, Annie and Joe, and their spouses, Mark, Paul and Polly, were at her side thanking her for this and for that from their lives together—everything from "thanks, Mom, for playing baseball with us" to "thanks, Mom, for not poisoning us against Dad after the divorce." One daughter sang very softly while playing her guitar.
Early on, I had anointed her and put a tiny sliver of the Sacred Host in her mouth. Now I read the prayers for the dying. Then there was silence.
As we often do in Madonna House, when it seems obvious that someone is very close to the end, we sing from the hymn to Our Lady of Combermere. I chose to quietly sing the last verse alone:
Holy Mary of Combermere,
Softly we speak thy name so dear.
Dwell with us in the valley of your love,
Lift our hearts to the heights up above.
Take us in your loving arms, we pray,
And hold us tenderly ‘til that blessed day,
When your Son in heaven we shall see,
For all eternity.
Within five minutes Our Lady fulfilled that promise and for Diane Valeria Kunz "that blessed day" began forever.
PS. I miss you, Diane. Do they ever accept collect calls up There?
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