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A priest recalls what it meant went a nun traveled 5 hours to visit his dying father

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. It tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Today's story comes from Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest. In 2000, Martin's father was diagnosed with lung cancer. One of the people he will never forget from that time was a nun named Janice Farnham. Farnham was one of Martin's professors in theology school and had become a family friend. She had taken a particular shine to Martin's father.

JAMES MARTIN: And right before he died, Janice said to me, well, I'd like to come visit him. Now, she lived in Boston, and, you know, she's on a Catholic sister's budget, right? They take a vow of poverty.

And Janice got on a train, took the train down 5 hours to Philadelphia, took another commuter train, found her way to the hospital, spent time with my dad, got back on the train and went back home. And I thought it was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me.

And I said, you know, I can't believe you did it. And she said, of course. You know, why wouldn't I want to come down and see your dad? So this just really gracious, generous gesture of love and the fact that a Catholic sister would come down and visit my dad was a big deal for him. It was very moving, and I think it prepared him for his death. He died, I think, a week or two later. So I think it's a reminder that - you know, someone said, 99% of life is showing up and that these gestures that we make really stick with people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You know, one of my rules now in life is when it comes to funerals or weddings or baptisms or certainly visiting people in the hospital or anything like that, if I can go, I will go, right? If I'm able to go, if I'm there, I will go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And never underestimate that, what we call in the Jesuits, ministry of presence - just showing up.

SUMMERS: Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest. He lives in New York City. His unsung hero, Janice Farnham, is a retired professor of church history. You can find more stories like this on the "My Unsung Hero" podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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