SEATTLE – At 100 years old, despite arthritic knees and legs that have given out, Barbara Sauntry still makes it to daily and Sunday Masses at St. Bridget Church.
“I think that is a remarkable thing at any age,” said her pastor, Father William Heric. “She carries everything in her life with great faith and trust in God’s mercy.”
Sauntry, who celebrated her 100th birthday on September 21, said she has outlived all of her siblings, her husband, a son and lifelong friends. She uses a wheelchair, relying on her caregivers and a close friend to help her get around.
“I just never dreamed I’d live this long,” Sauntry said. “I’ve been very devoted to my church all my life.”
Sauntry focuses on her faith by going to Mass, praying the rosary and watching Catholic programming on EWTN. “I feel very close to the people I’ve met in my church. It’s just been wonderful,” Sauntry said.
“She is an amazingly disciplined person,” said her friend, Rose Buckingham. “I think that’s part of the reason for her longevity.”
After daily Mass on October 3, Father Heric presented Sauntry with a papal blessing parchment from Pope Francis, an honor arranged by Buckingham. (See box for information on ordering papal blessings for special occasions.) Sauntry said she was pleased to receive the blessing, but “I feel I don’t deserve it.”
Barbara Sauntry, a member of St. Bridget Parish in Seattle, received a blessing from Pope Francis in honor of her 100th birthday. Her pastor, Father William Heric, presented it to her October 3 after daily Mass. Also pictured is Barbara’s caregiver, Sylvia Watunu. Photo: Courtesy St. Bridget Parish
Roots of faith
Sauntry grew up in a small town in Idaho, where her family attended Masses offered by a traveling priest from Boise.
“I had a very devout mother,” Sauntry said. “She made sure everyone got going on time for Mass.”
In 1937, at age 17, Sauntry began attending the University of Washington, where she discovered the Newman Club (now named the Prince of Peace Catholic Newman Center). At the Catholic club, Sauntry said, she forged many lifelong friendships and met her future husband, J. Philip Sauntry.
Sauntry taught school for a year before they got married in 1941. Their two sons attended Catholic schools, where Sauntry was active in the mothers’ clubs. Their younger son was murdered when he was 20 years old.
“I told my husband, ‘If we can survive this, we can survive anything,’” Sauntry said. “I think it was our strong faith that held us together.”
Philip, who was an Army veteran and physician, died in 2008. Sauntry’s older son lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and comes to visit.
At age 93, in a Newman Center video interview, Sauntry explained that she began reading the Bible as part of her daily devotions after a Jesuit priest friend suggested adding something to her Lenten practices. She also noted her devotion to Catholic radio and EWTN television and making an effort to get others interested in them. “So that’s how I’m evangelizing,” Sauntry said.
“I’ve learned a lot from both of them,” she said of Catholic radio and TV. “There’s so much to know … and I’m not going to live long enough to know it all, but I’m trying.”
Order a papal blessing
Catholics can receive papal blessings for sacramental and other special occasions. Papal blessing parchments can be ordered online directly from the Papal Charities Office in Vatican City. It is the only authorized site for the commemorative parchments.
Occasions for which papal blessings can be requested are: baptism, first Communion, confirmation, marriage, priestly ordination, religious profession and permanent deacon ordination. The date of the occasion must be two to four months from the date the order is placed.
In addition, blessings are available for milestone wedding anniversaries and birthdays (see the site for the list). In these cases, the person making the request online must make a declaration that the person(s) they are requesting the blessing for are practicing Catholics.
A variety of parchment templates are available for each occasion; it takes about three weeks for delivery. All proceeds go to serve the poor in the Pope’s name.