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Stairway to Heaven

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“There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold…
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven”

You can instinctively start singing the melody the minute you see the lyrics.

But I dare not think, that Robert Plant was thinking of the Sisters of Loretto when he penned that song.

Imagine a floating staircase connecting a choir loft with the floor of a chapel that is circular, has no nails, screws, railings or a center support. Just square wooden pegs and short pieces of wood (3-5ft) that fit so perfectly together into two 360 degree turns of 33 steps with 33 risers.

That was the answer to a novena to St. Joseph in 1939.

The Sisters of Loretto were the first to answer a Bishop’s plea for evangelization of the newly acquired New Mexico area after the US victory in the Mexican War in 1848.  In 1852, this first order of nuns in the US without European ties, trekked through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado to New Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail.   Their blessed path was marred by bad weather, cholera, death of their Mother Superior and hostile natives.  I can’t help but see great parallels of our blessed paths of lives with all kinds of peril.

 Yet, these young women persisted. As should we.

Upon arriving to Santa Fe, they managed to raise $30,000 to build a chapel fashioned after Sainte Chapelle in Paris.  However, the father/son team of architects left the sisters with no way to reach the choir loft.  Curious.  Nevertheless, the sisters had no way to reach the loft.  Without any additional resources, they did what maybe we should do more of, they began a novena.

A novena to the patron saint of carpenters and builders.

An unknown carpenter rode in on a donkey, sporting a gray hair and beard.  He was hired and proceeded to  lock out the sisters for the time period he was working.   Then he just disappeared, without receiving any money.

The nuns were undoubtedly amazed to see the craftsmanship – literally, a floating staircase  without any railings.  The nuns used the staircase for 8 years before installing any railings along the sides.

It was not until 1997 that the wood used in the staircase was given a name, Loretto Spruce.

 It was not a species indigent to the area nor was it ever recorded previously.

Beginning with their hopeful journey through the Santa Fe trail, to their novena, God’s answers weren’t entirely all that they wanted.  Perhaps, I can see more of God’s answers to my prayers, not as incomplete, but exactly what He knew I needed.

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Liz Banko

Liz is a native New Yorker has found herself living in a number of states with husband, Peter, of 25 years for their commitment to Catholic healthcare.

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