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Newspaper columnist showcases Light of Hearts Villa in Christmas spirit column

Regina Brett, New York Times bestselling author and columnist for The Plain Dealer, recently wrote a column about the spirit of love found at Light of Hearts Villa, where her mother has been a resident for two years. Light of Hearts Villa is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

As seen in The Plain Dealer and on

Bringing the Christmas spirit into our own lives: Regina Brett

My mom is big on the Holy Family.


Not so much on baby Jesus. Of course she loves babies. She had 11. But she doesn't like that people leave Jesus in the manger after Christmas to die of neglect.

Mom loves to see statues of Jesus as a boy with his parents. She wants more than a sanitized Christmas carol version of him. "Away in a Manger" makes that bogus claim, "no crying He makes."

Seriously? Mom knows better than most: Every baby screams and whimpers and wails.

Mom knows Christmas isn't about God showing up as some angelic being, but God appearing as a human being -- helpless, fragile, and powerless -- to show us how holy it really is to be human.

Before she retired as sacristan from Immaculate Conception Church in Ravenna, Mom helped buy a statue of the Holy Family for the church.

She told the priest they needed a statue with Jesus as a boy. She couldn't afford the whole thing, so she paid for Jesus. Sometimes she calls him her 12th child.

When they installed that big statue of Mary, Jesus and Joseph, we took pictures of her standing next to it. She was so proud to see the Holy Family all together, as if she herself had reunited them.

Then her memory started to fail and we had to find her a new home.

It's not easy to find a good assisted living facility for someone with Alzheimer's that isn't a nursing home with a shared bedroom or independent living that is too independent.

After numerous calls and visits, nothing felt right. Meanwhile, we were all afraid she'd forget to turn off the stove and burn down the house.

The worry was wearing me out. Then I visited Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford. As I entered the parking lot, I said another prayer, asking for guidance. "Please show me if this is the right place for Mom."

Some people say we're not supposed to pray for signs, but when I'm really lost or heartsick or hopeless, I pray: "God, I need your clarity. If you already gave me the answer, I missed it so use a spotlight, a billboard or a sledgehammer to get my attention."

My Prayer of Desperation always works. I got my sign.

There it was, right in the parking lot: a glowing white statue of the Holy Family. Mary, Joseph and Jesus as a boy.

I nearly crashed right into it.

I walked inside and saw an entire wall of angels. All shapes and sizes. The statues filled what had been the trophy case when Light of Hearts was a high school.

Then God upped the ante. I met Sister Regina.

I kid you not.

Statue? Check. Angels? Check. Nun with my name? Check.

My mom has lived there for over two years now. It was hard at first. It wasn't home, but home is where your heart is. Now, her heart is here.

So are her rosaries, statues and Thomas Merton books. She read the Trappist monk's books while she was pregnant with me. He reminds us both how to love this human family that we all are.

Merton once wrote:

"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy."

Merton believed in this simple definition of sainthood: A saint is someone who knows how much God loves them.

There's a lot of buzz lately about Mother Teresa being named a saint for performing miracles. Miracles are a nice touch, but Mary and Joseph became saints simply by saying yes to being a family.

My mom has a new family, including a woman in her unit who doesn't speak. Alzheimer's is a terrible thief; it steals more than memories.

Because my Mom has Alzheimer's, she keeps re-introducing me to the short woman with the blank face and tells me the same story:

"She can't talk. She doesn't say anything, so I talk to her every day," Mom says. Then my mom kisses the woman on the head. The woman never says a word, but my mom never stops doing it.

One day, the story had a different ending.

After my mom kissed the woman on the head, the woman who never speaks looked up at my mom and said, "I love you."

My mom keeps telling that story.

It's not the Alzheimer's that causes her to repeat it.

She wants me to remember what it means to be a holy family.

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