By Rev. Paul J. Kane
On June 26, 2016, St. Paul’s parishioners Nick and Judy Fenney received the unimaginably painful news that their beloved granddaughter Maggie Mae had been critically injured in a car accident in Islamorada, just a half mile away from home, while driving to the gym. After four agonizing days on life support, Maggie died on June 30, 2016, at the age of 22, just one week short of her 23rd birthday.
In the four days between the accident and her death, Maggie’s parents Mark and Joanna made the life-giving decision to honor Maggie’s wishes and donate her organs. In the midst of unthinkable grief, the family found comfort and hope in the knowledge that Maggie’s heart would be donated to an 11 year old child.
Even in death, Maggie gave of herself to others, as she had done so often in life.
At the time of her death, Maggie was going into her senior year at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. She had just finished an internship working with special needs children. She was excited that the psychologist who mentored her had offered her a paid position as an intern for the upcoming semester. She was preparing to receive her degree in social work and begin a career that would be focused on helping children.
Maggie’s career aspirations were motivated in no small part by her childhood, growing up as the youngest of three children. Heyden, one of Maggie’s two older brothers, suffers from autism. Living with Heyden, Maggie and her oldest brother John grew up with a particular sensitivity to people with special needs. This led to her lifelong involvement with the Special Olympics, a program in which Heyden has thrived as an athlete.
It is the memory of Maggie’s joyful, selfless service to others and their own deep faith in God, which have helped Nick and Judy to cope with their grief. In the painful days immediately following Maggie’s death, Nick and Judy turned to God and their parish family of St. Paul’s for solace and strength. Their journey has been one from heartbreak to hope.
This hope, rooted in faith, motivated Judy to get involved in ministries in which she could continue Maggie’s legacy of service. With the love and support of her dear friend Kathleen Megan, Judy started volunteering at the Caring Kitchen, an outreach ministry to the poor and homeless here in Delray Beach. Until its closing on October 31st, Judy worked every Friday in the social services office at the Caring Kitchen, helping hundreds of needy clients to live healthier, happier lives. She now serves as a co-chair for the Caring Kitchen’s transition committee and as secretary of the Delray Beach Homeless Coalition.
Like Maggie, Judy has a special love for working with children. This has brought Judy to serving at Paul’s Place, an afterschool ministry of St. Paul’s. Together with her friend Kathleen Megan, Judy helps to cook and serve dinner every Monday at Paul’s Place. These weekly meals have become affectionately known as “Meatball Monday!”
Like his wife Judy, Nick has drawn strength and inspiration from his faith and from the memory of his granddaughter Maggie. He serves as the president of their condominium association. At St. Paul’s, he and Judy now serve as ushers at the 8am service.
To stay spiritually connected to Maggie, Nick and Judy have a sacred, prayerful evening ritual. Every night, before they go to bed, they step out on their balcony to say goodnight to Maggie as they look at the stars and the moon. In addition to this sacred stargazing, Nick and Judy see rainbows as a precious sign of the enduring presence of Maggie in their lives.
This past year, while attending the opening ceremonies of the Florida Special Olympics, held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, a rainbow appeared on the horizon. For Nick and Judy, this was no coincidence. It was a sign of hope. It was a sacred reminder that not even the heartbreak of death can separate them from the love of God and from their beloved Maggie.