A Special Wedding in Intensive Care
As a Glenmary missioner, I always ask God, “How can I be your instrument today?” God’s answers come in many ways—sometimes unexpected and extraordinary. The following experience is one I will never forget.
Forrest Joines, a lifelong Baptist and resident of Lafayette, Tenn., was married late in his life to his young bride Cherrie, a lifelong Catholic. Forrest had not attended his church for 50 years, but he always encouraged Cherrie to raise their two children, Cherrie Lynn and Hathel, as Catholics. And he encouraged the three to attend weekly Mass and be active members of their parish, Glenmary’s Holy Family mission in Lafayette—the only Catholic church within 40 miles, and one where I’ve been pastor the last four years. Cherrie also is a longtime religious education teacher. Forrest came to the mission for special celebrations such as the children’s first Communions, but as time went on, his declining health made it hard for him to leave the house.
His dream was to see his two children raised to adulthood. He rejoiced in witnessing them graduate from high school and attend college.
While still a college student, Cherrie Lynn became engaged to her high school sweetheart, Jacob. The couple planned to get married a year later, in July 2015, at the cathedral in Nashville. The year of preparation brought great excitement. As their pastor, I had the honor of preparing them for their marriage and presiding at the wedding. They were both ready for this lifelong commitment. And Forrest was eagerly looking forward to living his dream of walking his daughter down the aisle.
Just four days before the wedding, though, Forrest became ill. He was having difficulty breathing and was taken to the hospital. But his great hope of attending the wedding was still alive.
“I’ll be there on Saturday,” he said. But as his condition worsened, it became clear that Forrest would be unable to attend.
On Friday, the day before the wedding, Jacob’s dad Terry called me and said, “We have an emergency. Forrest is fading fast. And the kids very much want you to preside at their wedding at the hospital today so Forrest can be part of it, even though they’ll still have the wedding Mass at the cathedral tomorrow.” I told him I could be at the hospital in an hour.
I had many feelings while driving those 40 miles to the hospital in a neighboring county. As Glenmary missioners, we are called to be present and share Christ’s love in people’s times of need. I asked God to work overtime in this situation. As I entered the hospital, I prayed for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I met many members of Forrest’s family in the waiting area. All were confused about what this Catholic priest was going to do.
As I entered the intensive-care-unit (ICU) room, about 15 relatives were gathered around Forrest’s bed, along with nurses, doctors and other staff members. The room had been transformed into a chapel. There were flowers as well as a wedding arch, and one of the nurses had arranged for refreshments and food. In the bed, Forrest was struggling to breathe, as his wife Cherrie stood next to him, holding his hand and rubbing his head. My anxieties left me, and I knew I was in a holy place.
I asked where the bride and groom were. Then I looked down the hall and saw Cherrie Lynn in her beautiful white gown and Jacob in his tuxedo, standing with the maid of honor and best man. Many onlookers were in tears as the couple walked toward the ICU room. Joy as well as sadness filled my heart. How wonderful to be here, I thought.
Forrest and Cherrie wanted to renew their wedding vows of 24 years before their daughter’s wedding. Forrest closed his eyes and held his wife’s hand as we prayed together. And he gave a strong nod as he said “I do” during the vow renewal. He also made a profession of faith, and I anointed him. Next, the young couple strongly expressed their love for one another as Forrest looked on. There were tears in his and other people’s eyes.
The celebration was a blessing for all those present. And everyone involved was very grateful. We
stayed just a while before leaving, because we knew Forrest was weak and tired from all the activity. But he had an expression of peace on his face.
The next day, I presided again as Cherrie Lynn and Jacob were married at the cathedral. The Mass and church were beautiful, but my mind kept going back to the ICU room-turned-chapel of the day before. Forrest was not at the cathedral, but his love was present. The reception was a quiet one.
The following morning, Sunday, at 3 a.m., Forrest died. But his wish to be with his daughter on her wedding day had come true.
I was deeply honored and thankful to share in this experience. I often reflect on the blessings of being a Glenmary missioner, working in small towns and rural areas of the United States, and helping people in spiritual and material need. I will keep on responding to God’s call to be an instrument of his love.
Editor's note: In addition to pastoring Holy Family mission in Lafayette, Father Vic also serves as pastor of Divine Savior mission in Celina, Tenn.