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An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman's spirituality influenced her attitude and actions

Joliet woman’s spiritual compassion influenced her attitude and actions

Lucille Smith
Lucille Smith

JOLIET – As Marcia Marzec was going through her mother’s things, she was amazed at the volume of material Lucille Smith of Joliet had amassed.

One by one, Marcia went through the folders, arranged by topic: each Roman Catholic pope, Fatima and other Marian apparitions, health and diet issues, AIDS, political figures and church figures, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination, events in the Middle East, Islam and recent Supreme Court decisions. Lucille even made lists of her favorite songs, complete with lyrics.

These were not mere clippings that Lucille had given a quick glance and then appropriately filed, but a journey of Lucille’s thoughts and reflections as she learned from them, led by a trail of Lucille’s handwritten notes.

Through the years, Marcia, an English professor emeritus at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, has published numerous books and papers, and taught hundreds of students since she began her teaching career in 1970.

But Marcia’s foundational inspiration was not a school or favorite teacher. It was her mother Lucille, and Lucille’s love for research – which spurred her knowledge.

And the foundation for Lucille’s life was her love for Jesus Christ, which colored Lucille’s life with compassion, a strong sense of social justice and cheerfulness in challenging circumstances.

Lucille’s constant prayer was “Jesus I live for you,” Marcia said. And live for Jesus Lucille did.

For instance, Lucille was the type of mother who helped her children with homework every night, searched Childcraft books for educational recreation and insisted on piano lessons. Yet Lucille never emphasized grades or vying with others for the top.

“You competed with your best self,” Marcia said. “You were always trying to be better; you were always trying to develop yourself.”

Lucille didn’t compete with people. She loved them. She visited the sick in the hospital, baked cakes for those recovering at home and prayed daily rosaries that lasted for hours because she interceded for so many people by name.

But Lucille also attended anti-war gatherings in the 1960s and a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in the auditorium at Joliet Central High School after King’s assassination because Lucille felt it was the right thing to do.

Marcia accompanied Lucille to that memorial, noting that few white people attended. Furthermore, slipping onto a back seat wouldn’t do for Lucille.

“We were way up there, maybe the fourth row or the sixth row, and it was so nice,” Marcia said. “Everyone held hands and sang ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ”

Lucille’s compassion extended to all of God’s entire creation. She cared for sick birds and never killed a bug or spider. When her last cat died and Lucille decided she was too old to properly care for another one, a relative gave her a beta fish. Lucille pampered that fish.

“In the winter, she would put a towel around the bowl so that her fish would not get cold,” Marcia said.

Looking back, Marcia feels Lucille’s greatest ministry didn’t begin until the few years before Lucille’s death Jan. 20 at age 96.

Despite battling a frequent round of infections, hospitalizations and bedsores, Lucille remained kind, loving and cheerful. She always smiled, never complained and complimented her providers for taking such good care of her.

“She suffered the way Christians should suffer – sharing the suffering of Christ,” Marcia said. “The fact that she always prayed and kept the faith, offering up her suffering and accepting it as God’s will – said something to me.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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