Catholic Herald Staff
As a child, Joy Ranallo wanted to travel the world, moved by books she read. As an adult, she travelled for pleasure, and later, as a deeply faith-filled Catholic, made numerous pilgrimages.
At 80, having suffered three strokes in three years, unable even to drive, she travels in her heart and memories. The places dearest to her are those related to the Divine Mercy devotions and St. Faustina Kowalska.
Born in South Carolina and raised Southern Baptist, Ranallo’s first contact with anything Catholic was a Fatima prayer book her mother read until the pages yellowed and curled. She has no idea where it came from; Ranallo was in high school before she ever met a Catholic.
Working at a hospital in North Carolina, the young woman made an impression on an elderly diabetic. Having noticed the number of hours she worked, one day he asked why.
“Because I’m trying to save money,” she said. “I want to go someplace, I want to travel and see the world.”
That man, who happened to be president of the board for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, offered her a scholarship to management school. Although Ranallo regretfully can’t remember the man’s name, the “great gift” he gave her opened doors neither could have imagined.
She then moved to California with a friend, found work, converted to Catholicism, travelled – even visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe’s shrine in Mexico, although just because it was featured in the AAA tour book – and eventually met and married her husband, a native of Cumberland. The active couple loved their lifestyle, but had no idea of the adventures to come.
Sitting in the “golf room” with EWTN’s daily Mass on the TV in the background, the restless Ranallo recounted a conversation with her friend Sr. Isabel, who is hesitantly retiring after decades of leading Marian pilgrimages around the world.
Referring to her stroke-induced limitations, she told the sister, “At first it was terrible for me. I couldn’t get out and be active anymore and do the things I had done… I rarely see anybody anymore. I couldn’t drive, and I’d been driving since I was 8 years old … But you’re gonna get to a place where you actually have time to sit and think about all the blessings God has poured upon you, and the places you’ve been and the people you’ve met.”
Ranallo took in a deep breath. “It’s wonderful, amazing what He does.”
Both Joy and her husband, Tony, had profound conversions in May 1992. Almost 20 years into their marriage, the experiences were prompted by recorded talks of a priest who had been to Medjugorje multiple times.
Ranallo shared, with mounting emotion, “I had this instant thing … and gift that I received on May the 7th was this tremendous joy … It was like going to a filling station, and somebody puts a pump in you, and I was pumped full of joy to the top of my head.”
Noticing a difference, after a few days her husband asked what was going on. Not quite sure how to present her experience, as they were not regular churchgoers and religion wasn’t something they talked about, she just asked if he wanted to listen to the same talks. He did, and she knew he had been similarly touched when he returned one hour later “with a big smile on his face.”
Their conversion led to deeper involvement in the faith and other Catholics near where they were living in Cumberland; a group, as Ranallo describes, “God collected and formed” in deep faith and devotion.
She credits Tony for introducing them to the Divine Mercy. He brought home the image, and though she was “not particularly drawn to it, I was happy to have Jesus in the house.” Over time, Joy fell in love with Divine Mercy and its effects in their lives. “Now, it’s the most blessed to me, it just turns my heart when I see it.”
She thinks it was in the year 1999, before the Divine Mercy’s “secretary” St. Faustina was canonized, that, with then-pastor Fr. Gerard Willger, they planned the first Divine Mercy Sunday celebration in the diocese. It was at St. Joseph’s Parish in Barron, with Mass and the sung Chaplet.
Fr. Willger recently reminded her of the call she made to him while in Rome for the canonization of St. Faustina in April 2000. Joy had to share that St. John Paul II had officially announced the Second Sunday of Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday” in the universal Church.
After the canonization, the Ranallos’ pilgrimage continued to Poland to learn more about Faustina’s life and spirituality. One of their guides was Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, vice-postulator for Sr. Faustina’s cause for canonization.
The Ranallos remained closely connected with Fr. Seraphim Michalenko and Divine Mercy-related ministries, nationally and internationally. Fr. Seraphim even sent Joy a second-class relic, a piece of something that had belonged to St. Faustina.
Later, he desired to entrust her with a first-class relic, a fragment of one of Faustina’s bones, but with a change in Vatican guidelines stating they could no longer be given to individuals, Ranallo called for help.
Fr. Gerard Willger was willing to do whatever was necessary through then-Bishop Fliss to obtain permission to accept the relic. The first-class relic of St. Faustina has now been placed in the altar at St. Joseph’s Church in Hayward, where Divine Mercy services will take place Sunday, April 28.
Ranallo shared words of St. John Paul II from Faustina’s canonization: “And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness of it among our brothers and sisters.”