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Longtime parish columnist takes joy in 'Senior Moments'

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Marge Van Lierde knows the meaning of divine inspiration.

The longtime parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna said that’s how she comes up with the seemingly endless list of ideas and advice she includes in a weekly column called “Senior Moments” that has appeared in the parish bulletin for more than 20 years.

“I have never missed a week,” said Van Lierde, who started writing after Oblate Father John M. O’Neill, the former pastor, asked her to represent senior interests on the parish council, knowing she was a caregiver for her mother, who lived to 102. Aiming to provide practical assistance as well as representation, she began rounding up resources to share, mixing in a little gentle humor, as reflected in the column title.

She doesn’t just wait for inspiration, but collects everything from new research on aging to advice on senior tax deductions and free classes for retirees. A section of “Elder Wisdom” features quips or quotes from parish patron St. Francis de Sales and others.

“There’s stuff all over. My eyes just look for things,” said Van Lierde, who admits only to being “somewhere beyond 65.” Her daughter and son are now in their late 50s and early 60s.

After her mother and husband died, she stayed in her home for several years, then began researching retirement communities, a process she detailed in a four-part series that was so popular “the church had to run off extra copies for people,” she said.

She followed with a three-part series on aging in place. While she knows “retirement communities are not right for everybody,” she’s been so effusive since moving in 2018 to Ashby Ponds, a large continuing care community in Ashburn, that many parishioners have followed her there.

After livestreaming Sunday Masses for a year, Van Lierde recently resumed the 16-mile commute to attend in person. She knows other parishes are closer, but Our Lady of Good Counsel has been her parish home for more than 30 years. “I was just very active in everything and love the Oblates and the energy the parish has,” she said. “I vowed I would continue to go there until I couldn’t drive anymore.” 

She still finds joy in writing for seniors and wants to give them the recognition they deserve.

“When people get old, they feel they have no value anymore. A lot of doors close. One of my mother’s friends would say ‘Why am I still here?’

“We are here to continue to be examples,” she said. “Even though we don’t think so, our kids are watching us. We can’t do all the things we used to do, but we deal with adversity, and we still have the opportunity to set a good example and show them how to deal with that.”

A martyred aunt, a holy relic

Many parishioners at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna know that Marge Van Lierde had an aunt, Sister Zdenka Cecilia Schelingová, who died in a Slovak prison in 1955 at age 38 after helping a priest escape Communist persecution. She was beatified as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 2003. 

Six months after Van Lierde met her aunt's religious community, the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross, at the beatification in the Slovak Republic, they sent her a first-class relic, a little piece of bone. 

“What do you do with something like that?” Van Lierde said. 

She has offered it wherever there seems to be a need. “It’s an unusual experience, like a door would open, and I would enter and say, ‘I have this relic of my aunt. Would you like to pray with it for a while?’ ”

She’s offered it to more than 50 people over the years. “It didn’t change what was happening to them, but it changed them,” she said. “They said they felt peace and confidence and courage to forge through it.”

Van Lierde said before her aunt died, she “forgave the men who tortured her and said that in the end, the most important thing is love and forgiveness.” Van Lierde feels “a blessed part of her is flowing through me.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021