Mirth, camaraderie, photos of the octogenarian, splashes of floral arrangements, helium balloons, candles, choicest wines, a savory supper, heartfelt toasts—all blend into a multifaceted harmony that enlivens hearts of the very young and old.

Who is this woman with an uncanny knack of being in crisis with others until they inch their way out? From whence comes her passion for living, her laughter that trounces the outworn?

A rule-breaker from her earliest years, she still regales listeners with stories: commandeering the horse-drawn milk truck on Kingshighway Boulevard for a ride to her parochial school; faking her age to work in the nursery of the old St. Johns Hospital in order to fund her tuition at Xavier High School; placing a lit cigarette in the outstretched hand of the statue of Mary in the foyer of that hospital; having to change high schools in her senior year, and so much more.

From voracious reading and chancing the untried, she learned that nothing is as it seems. Her parenting five children and care for sixteen grandchildren, her earning a doctoral degree while working nights in the emergency room at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, playing at the Gloucester lighthouse during annual retreats—all have her maverick touch. And learning of the need for transitional housing for ex-women offenders, she developed Magdela House in South St. Louis.

Time seems suspended in this confluence of energies swelling her daughter’s ranch house under a Passover moon. How easily the honoree moves among us in her silk harlequin-print dress (maroon-navy-black-white diamonds); it suggests the jester’s hilarity, extricating life-lessons from continuous challenges. Such is God’s work.

Her response caps the evening: “Everyone in this room has been, and still is, very significant to me. I hope I’ve loved you well. I also feel that I’ve just arrived at the first base camp on Mount Everest. Still more climbing awaits me until I reach the summit. I love you all!”

This is my friend Pat, the next morning found tending petunias at The Greenhouse.