Good Samaritan: Judy Hedlund’s faith guided by priest, poem, purpose

Each month, The Central Minnesota Catholic plans to feature a story about a modern day “Good Samaritan” from the diocese, someone who exhibits the work of the Gospel through their life and service. This initiative is in part to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti.” This month’s Good Samaritan is Judy Hedlund of St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie.

Judy Hedlund, parishioner of St. Mary of Mount Carmel of Long Prairie, Minnesota, was named the February Good Samaritan for The Central Minnesota Catholic. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

A number of years ago, Judy Hedlund stumbled across a poem that has, in some ways, become a metaphor for her life. In the poem, “The Road to Life,” the author (unknown) imagines riding with Christ on a tandem bike.

“It seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike and Christ was in the back helping me pedal,” the poem reads.

“When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable…it was the shortest distance between two points. But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts up mountains and through rocky places, and at breakneck speeds, it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, “Pedal!”

As a shy, young girl growing up in Long Prairie, Judy Hedlund didn’t stray much from her mother’s side. She liked the quiet life. To this day, she isn’t fond of being in the spotlight.

Judy lost her father at 14 and her mother struggled to care for her and her siblings. At 19, Judy married Wally, her now-husband of 53 years. The couple had three living sons and, to their sadness, experienced two miscarriages. When Judy was in her 30s, her mother became sick with kidney cancer, and Judy and her sister cared for her nearly 14 months before she died.

Despite the losses that surrounded her, Judy’s faith was strong, built upon generations of faith before her. Both her father and mother initially discerned religious vocations — her father in the seminary and her mother exploring the life of a religious sister before they met and chose married life.

Though she once feared public speaking, Judy Hedlund found numerous ways to lead in her parish. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

Judy also developed her faith while attending St. Mary Catholic School in Long Prairie, notably influenced by Benedictine Sister Lois Wedl, who accompanied her during the time her father was dying. Judy’s faith was something she always relied on. However, when her mother died in 1978, Judy felt the loss deeply.

“After she died, I wondered what to do with my life,” she said. “I felt lost.”

It was around that same time that Father Francis Britz, then pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Long Prairie, was looking for a part-time secretary. Judy felt called to apply and was hired for three hours a day, four days a week.

“I worried and was anxious and asked, ‘Where are you taking me?’ He laughed and didn’t answer and I started to learn to trust,” the poem continued.

From that time on, her ministry grew and so did her faith and knowledge. The more she spent time with the priest and the people of the parish, the more she grew in her own purpose.

“Through all of that, I was learning all the things that a parish does. Father Britz, and after him, Father Mark Stang, both had me involved in so many things. That helped me overcome my fear of public speaking and other anxieties. I was discovering my gifts through all of this,” Judy said.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord’s and mine,” from the poem.

Although her fears of public speaking and having all eyes on her continued, they lessened a bit over time. Judy later became president of the Christian mothers group, sang in the choir, was instrumental in stewardship efforts in the parish, taught religious education classes and assisted in creating outreach programs inside and outside of the parish. She also served on both the Catholic and public school boards in Long Prairie.

“The people who I met mentored me,” Judy said. “I admired, I emulated, I wanted to be like the people who had been involved in the parish long before me. Those were the people that I looked up to who served the community and the parish. I guess that is what I hope that others will learn from me, to listen to God’s voice and find their own gifts and find the courage to try.”

“And we were off again. He said, ‘Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.’ So I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving, I received, and still our burden was light,” the poem continued.

Judy, who retired from the parish after 29 years, now has a special role in reading at funerals. This past March, Judy and Wally lost their son, Jeff, who died unexpectedly of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at just 46. Judy was unsure if she could muster the strength to continue reading at funerals.

“After Jeff died, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it again, but I have,” she said. “I remember what Father Britz said, that it wasn’t about me, and I look at it as something I can do for the family, to offer the Word they chose to have read at this time. That’s been a gift for me.”

Father Omar Guanchez, pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel, sees Judy as a faithful woman of prayer, prompt to help. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

What makes Judy a Good Samaritan? Father Omar Guanchez, pastor of St. Mary of Mount Carmel, said it is because she sees a need and she stops and attends to it.

“She sees what needs to be done before anyone else and does it. She is very humble and always prompt to help. She knows everybody, and she is also obedient to our shepherd, the bishop, and also to the pastors who have served SMMC over the years. … She is also a woman of prayer and faithful to the Eucharist,” he said.

Judy says she still works through anxieties but wants to encourage others to bravely step out in faith.

“And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ. And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore, He just smiles and says . . . ‘Pedal.’”

“Everybody is given gifts and sometimes they are afraid to use them. I’m just as afraid as anybody else. But what I would like people to know is that if you have something to give, give it. Don’t be afraid. If there is something on your heart, pay attention to it. Also, if you recognize a gift in someone else, tell them, ask them to do something. If Father Britz wouldn’t have asked me to lector all those years ago, I probably never would have done it,” she said.

“After my mother died, I felt like there was something ‘more.’ That is something that people struggle with now, they are looking for something more and turning the wrong way — toward addictions and other things. We have to figure out that urge comes from God, and then we have to find it, pray about it, and be open to where he is leading us. It just takes that one step in faith.”

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DO YOU KNOW A “GOOD SAMARITAN”?
Email us at kbanders@gw.stcdio.org and tell us about them!
To learn more about Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” visit https://bit.ly/2JKaJzp.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the associate editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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