Life Changing: Erna Gray celebrates 25 years as an Associate
By Associate Vicki Welsh
Erna Gray’s story of becoming an Associate of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is as unique as Erna is herself! Erna is 93 years old and lives independently in Falcon, Colorado, a small town outside of Colorado Springs. She has her own home on a large tract of land that also includes her daughter’s home.
As we begin our conversation, she offers an apology. Erna explains that mornings can be difficult. She wakes up many times thrust into traumatizing memories of Dec. 6, 1944. So many bombs, so much noise, so many deaths. You have to know that Erna was born in Karlsruhe, Germany and in 1944 that town was bombed by Allied Forces killing 375 friends, family and neighbors. Erna was a young girl at the time of the bombing and continued her young life, with the help of her family, seemingly unphased by the event. She grew up only understanding that the American kindness of the Marshall Plan and the lifesaving food that came with it.
In 1960, while working for a firm in Germany, a young American GI began visiting her, they fell in love and were married. They moved to America and to Colorado Springs. There they made a nice home and raised a family. But then her husband, James, died, throwing her into the throes of loneliness. As a way to combat this loneliness she began to volunteer at Penrose Hospital in the Gift Shop. At the shop she would meet many people, among them many Sisters of Charity. One Sister in particular was S. Rose Virginia Brown.
One day Sister invited Erna to attend a Small Group Meeting held at her home. Erna went and it was wonderful! They shared their stories, lunched, and had Bible Study. Erna says, “Getting to know the Sisters was like someone pulling me out of a hole I was in!” It was just what she needed after losing her husband. She remembers other Sisters, Emily Anne Phelan, Barb Huber and Janice Ernst. There were also Associates there. Sister asked if Erna would like to become an Associate. Erna replied that she wasn’t even Catholic. To which Sister said, “We all pray to the same God!”
Erna went through RCIA, joined the Catholic Church, and then became an Associate on Dec. 8, 1996. “Getting to know the Sisters changed my life!”
Today, if you sit with Erna, she would bring photos of her life and family to show you. She is humble, gracious, and is quick to share her story. While she doesn’t feel like she can attend Associate functions any more, most afternoons you can find her in prayer at Our Lady of the Pines in Black Forest, thanks to her daughter. When she returns home a glance up over the TV reminds Erna and all of us: Imagine Peace. Yes, Erna, we will.