The newly published book The Stations of the Cross for the Sick was a poignant gift of love by its author Kitty McDonough who wrote it the night she found out that Bishop James McHugh, a longtime friend from childhood, was in the final stages of terminal cancer.
McDonough, a parishioner of Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, never imagined that these reflections would be published beyond a church copy machine. She would only discover later that writing the stations for the sick was a unique idea with universal appeal.
When one of her friends gave it to Bishop Robert J. Baker, the bishop recognized its value and helped Kitty pursue its publication by Our Sunday Visitor. He not only gave it his imprimatur but also wrote its introduction.
“What better source of strength can there be for people who are ill and suffering than that afforded by Jesus, the Son of God, facing such obstacles? Uniting their struggles with Him and His, their crosses become His and are easier to bear,” said the bishop in the introduction.
McDonough welcomed everyone’s enthusiasm especially the publisher that bypassed their usual two-year production cycle and made it available this Lent through immediate release.
“Normally we need more time to consider a book and to market it, but we felt this book would be one of those books that would spread through word of mouth,” said Mike Dubruiel, acquisitions editor for Our Sunday Visitor who was instrumental in getting the book out for Lent.
According to Dubruiel, it is doing very well “out of the gate,” and he sees its popularity only increasing as people begin using it in their parishes, their ministries and in their own lives.
The marketing department of OSV said that it has sold more than 1,500 copies since its release in January.
One person particularly touched by the station book was Bishop Baker’s brother, Jim, who has been battling advanced prostate cancer for more than four years. He was asked to write his reflection in the preface of the book, something he considers a great honor.
“In the prayers and meditations contained in this small book, I found a real connection to the journey of Jesus through His most difficult times,” remarked Jim who said it was the best version of the stations that he ever read. “You are able to transpose your circumstance with Christ and by seeing how he dealt with his suffering, you have an example to follow.”
He added that the book is really for everyone since, “each of us has at least a few more ‘stations’ to go” in this life.
Looking back, Kitty believes she has been preparing for the book her whole lifetime starting as a child growing up in a tight-knit church community in Orange, N.J. The people in the old neighborhood never lost touch with one another and that included Kitty, her brother Juan and Bishop McHugh. When McHugh became a bishop of Camden, N.J., and then Rockville Center in New York things did not change; he still performed many of the family’s baptisms, weddings and came to other family events. She felt that her vocation as wife ran parallel with her friend’s vocation to the priesthood, starting the same year. Their close relationship brought home to her the idea of the Mystical Body of Christ and how everyone is interconnected. It is no wonder why his suffering with cancer affected her and her family as if McHugh were their sibling.
“Bishop Jim always seemed to be there for me during family trials and illnesses. Sometimes I did not even call, and there he would be,” she said, remembering that even the night Bishop McHugh told her he was dying, she was so upset that he ended up consoling her instead of the other way around.
“I did not sleep well that night, and I remember waking up at 4 a.m., and I started writing,” she recalled. It is worth noting that only a few changes were made to that original draft of the stations.
McDonough’s daughter-in-law, Mary McDonough, also was a part of this family project. She did the contemporary illustrations in the book that compliment the simple and direct meditations. Her prints, especially the cover, maintains a hopeful attitude in the midst of Christ’s suffering, a message that emanates throughout each page, a message that the sick desperately need as they carry their heavy cross.
“I take no personal pride in this book because it was the work of the Holy Spirit,” said McDonough, an English professor and poet who turned the pain of losing a loved one into an opportunity to express her faith-filled hope and trust in God.
McDonough does not know if her dear friend was able to read her stations in his last days. By the way she describes Bishop McHugh as a humble servant of Christ, he will no doubt, see for eternity the spiritual comfort the book will provide to others whose hands will touch its healing pages.
X. Jesus is Stripped of His Clothing
“Lord, since this sickness began we have endured many invasions of the body’s privacy through tests, consultations, treatments, or surgery. How painful it is to submit to the ministrations of others. But before us You stand meek as a lamb, while soldiers have stripped the garments from You. One by one we must shed the layers of false pride or true, of health and vigor, and of many worldly favors. Just let us keep that loincloth of faith, and yes, a sense of humor in the midst of our humiliations, so that we may step up to the cross clothed in Your grace.”