98-year-old woman meets friend for the first time
|Father Bernardito Felix presents flowers to Agnes Orcutt upon their meeting each other for the first time June 26 at New Cassel Retirement Center in Omaha. Photo by Lisa Schulte|
By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice
Agnes Orcutt waited anxiously for the arrival of her dear friend, Father Bernardito Felix, who was scheduled to come see her that afternoon.
She had known the Filipino priest for 20 years and they had shared many of life's special memories with one another.
But the two had never met.
As she sat on the couch holding a packet of photos she wanted to share with him, the 98-year-old recalled their many letters and his phone call from Los Angeles a number of years ago that had meant so much to her.
Today he was making the five-hour drive from Kansas to her apartment at New Cassel Retirement Center in Omaha.
'I'm really excited to meet him," Orcutt said June 26. 'In fact, it's bothering my stomach."
Father Felix was a young seminarian in the Philippines when Orcutt and her late husband, John, began sending money to pay for his schooling. For several years they gave him $10 to $50 a month. On his ordination 14 years ago, they sent him $200 to purchase a gold chalice.
'He's a part of me," Orcutt said describing her relationship with the 41-year-old priest. 'I owe my longevity to his prayers."
An emotional meeting
Orcutt's day continued as usual until around 2 p.m., when, in the middle of a game of Bingo, Orcutt was told Father Felix was just minutes away.
'Should I change my clothes? Maybe put on a dress?" she asked the woman who had come to get her.
No, she was told. The colorful sweater and pants she was wearing looked pretty on her.
Not long after she arrived in her room there was a knock on the door. She opened the door to find Father Felix holding a bouquet of flowers for her. Not many words were exchanged as the two embraced with beaming smiles. Friends who had come to witness the meeting snapped photos of the special moment.
'She sent me money years ago when I was a seminarian," Father Felix told the crowd before being overcome with emotion.
Orcutt and the priest, who both look younger than they are, stood and talked for a while before heading to the dining hall for a drink. The two caught up on each other's lives and recalled their matching by Father Raphael Librea, former pastor of St. Peter Parish. Father Felix was a student of Father Librea's at St. Francis de Sales College Seminary in Lipa City, Philippines.
Orcutt and Father Felix also discovered they share the same birthday "“ Feb. 12.
'I'm so happy and glad to meet my adopted mom," Father Felix said after their meeting. 'I've been hoping the past few years and praying that someday I'd see her."
'On my way to Omaha, I kept on thanking God for his generosity and for giving me Agnes to help me," he said. 'I was just hoping she would recognize me. I had just sent her pictures of me a couple of times."
He said meeting his 'adopted mom" was one of the 'happiest and unforgettable moments" in his life as a priest.
Father Felix stayed in a guest room at New Cassel that night and presided at the 11 a.m. Mass the next day. He and Orcutt were joined by Orcutt's daughter, Joan O'Keefe, when they visited St. Peter Church, and Girls and Boys Town.
Father Felix returned to Kansas later that day.
Helping poor seminarians
Father Felix, a priest ordained for the Diocese of Boac in the Philippines, was recently assigned as pastor of two parishes in Larned, Kan., as one of three 'priests-on-loan" to dioceses in the United States. He was traveling to Nebraska with parishioners, Frank and Vy Prosser, who had family in Omaha.
Father Felix came to the United States upon an agreement between the Diocese of Dodge City and the Diocese of Boac. The Filipino diocese provides priests to serve in Kansas, while the Kansas diocese provides help with funding to support their vocations program. Father Felix will serve in the diocese for three years.
Most diocesan seminarians in the Philippines are unable to pay for seminary studies, so they need benefactors or sponsors, said Father Librea, who is retired and lives in Springfield. He said the average cost for one seminarian to complete one year of philosophy today is $1,500. For theology, it's $2,000 a year.
When the Orcutts began sponsoring Father Felix, the tuition was much lower, Father Librea said. Within the last 10 years it has risen, he said, and one seminarian may have five to 10 benefactors at a time.
'I certainly encourage people to support vocations through monetary means, particularly those seminarians coming from a poor family," Father Felix said.
'I believe as a church it's one of our obligations to extend our helping hand and prayers to those men and women called by God to serve us, the church," he said. 'Helping seminarians and the church is, in a way, helping all Catholics, too, precisely because we are all part of the church "¦ We are the church."
Orcutt said she wasn't sure why she and her husband decided to sponsor a seminarian in the Philippines. She just knows she's glad she did it.
'Seminarians do a lot of praying for you," she said. 'That wasn't really our intention when we first started, but as the years went one, well, then I was always grateful for it."