Linda Liebl, a member at St. Louis Parish in Paynesville, undertook an unusual pilgrimage in late 2019: She attended Mass in 30 different churches in 30 days, what her son called a “church crawl.”
An English teacher forced to retire in 2018 due to her unpredictable health after cancer had metastasized into her brain and bones, Liebl wrote her reflections after each Mass, depending on what moved her — the Gospel or another reading, the homily, a connection that she made with people.
Then, she compiled them into a free book, “Once Upon the End: Hovering in the Last Chapter of Cancer,” which she’s made available at https://onceupontheend.pressbooks.com. The book was released in August.
“I picked the title because I’ve always been fond of fairy tales. It’s easy to remember, and the subtitle adds depth.”
On the web page, Liebl describes the book as, “A life lived and enjoyed with deepening faith while balancing breast cancer.”
“It’s not only for people facing cancer. I’m writing for anyone who’s been affected by a catastrophic illness where life has been altered dramatically,” she said.
Liebl intentionally chose a cover that was not too decorative because she wanted it to be accessible to people like her sons, 20-year-old men, who might be put off by the pink often associated with cancer battles.
“The hardest part was how to organize it,” she said. “I eventually decided to tell the cancer story in one chapter, and to include the reflections as stand-alone chapters to be read in any order, though they’re listed in order of the days I attended Mass.
“The more churches I visited, the less time each vignette took, the easier it was, and the longer I wrote,” she added. “At the end of the pilgrimage, I knew what I was looking for, which made it easier to listen. Sometimes I didn’t have a strong reaction, except perhaps that my mom had gone to this church. Since the pilgrimage, I see our Paynesville’s St. Louis with different eyes.”
Liebl, a voracious reader, devoured nearly 60 memoirs from the public library while at home. She combined the notes from her “church crawl,” together with old journals and emails from 2008 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, to create a story that is positive and with purpose.
About her current cancer condition, she said half of the tumors are gone. “So I’m better, but feel worse. Because it’s complicated, I only give the short answer to others’ questions. Instead I want to move forward in life. I appreciate that I’m able to find happiness in the situation.”
Liebl plans to attend more Masses in churches in the St. Cloud Diocese.
“There are 100 more parishes, so I am hoping to explore more churches further away with family and friends, but on a slower pace,” she said.