What follows is a fascinating conversation (actually, more of a monologue) with Esther Ruth Bell, who for the last 50 years has been a member of Holy Ghost (St. Katharine Drexel Parish) Church on Louisiana Avenue, caring for the priests’ vestments and altar server’ albs and tending to the flowers at the foot of the Blessed Mother statue outside the church.
Bell, 78, has an amazing way of thanking God – and Mary – for allowing her to overcome diabetes, which for months had her bedridden. She also cheerfully manages three-times-a-week dialysis and keeps up with her church “obligations.”
Here is Esther Ruth Bell’s story – in her own words:
“My three children went to Holy Ghost School, and I went with them to Mass. I was raisied Baptist. Father said I had to take instruction, and that’s how I started out as a Catholic. I just got into the Blessed Mother. I went to the novena every Tuesday night. I didn’t miss or I would’ve felt like I was dying.
“People always ask me about Mary. Mary got me out of that bed, got me walking, got me out of that wheelchair. I had been sick with diabetes, and it got worse. My doctors tried three years ago to get me into dialysis, but I refused because I thought they would stick me in the hip or something. But they do it in your arm. It’s not as bad as I thought.
Mary needs to be honored
“The people at the clinic all call me Mother Esther Ruth Bell. They know when I’m coming. I don’t have to knock. I was in a wheelchair, baby. I couldn’t get out of bed! Now, don’t you think I need to honor her?
“I love fixing her flowers. It makes me feel like a champ. After that, I can go home and rest. People in this church don’t know how good Mary is. You have to believe in her. I ain’t ashamed to tell nobody what she did for me.
“People ask me how I got out of the wheelchair. I told them you have to pray, you have to have faith. I know what I’m talking about because it’s been proven. I don’t need nobody to tell me nothing about Mary because I went through it with her.
“I grew up in Woodville, Mississippi – dirt on my feet, picking cotton, pulling corn. But I’m strong. That’s what makes me strong today. My mother taught school for many years, but she died at 46. She had diabetes. Diabetes runs in my family. If I had known then what I know now, I could have helped her.
Have iron, will travel
“I love helping out at the parish. I do all the purificators. I wash Father’s robes and iron them. They’ve got an ironing board here, but I don’t like his iron so I bring my own! That Father John (Cisewski) is the smartest priest. He studies hard. You can’t fool Father John. Don’t try. If you try, you’re going to be a lost duck.”
“I used to cook for a Jewish family. People ask me, ‘You’re from Mississippi, how did you learn to cook?’ I tell them, ‘I got a good mind.’
“I got my cane. I walk about eight blocks to and from church. I love taking care of Mary. That’s the best thing that could ever happen – to get to be friends with her.”