Here is a true story. Is it a chance happening? Or is it something more? You decide.
In 1992 I moved to Detroit to minister in the Jesuit novitiate. One day one of my Jesuit friends, Tim, asked me if I’d like to go out to dinner. He had received a gift card for a certain restaurant “out in the boonies.” The card was over a year old so he didn’t even know if it was still valid.
“I’d love to go,” I said. “When?” After going back and forth for possible days, we decided on Thursday of that week. It was winter. If the weather was bad, we would go on Friday.
Thursday came and so did the bad weather. In fact, it snowed pretty heavily all afternoon, but we decided we’d chance it anyway. As we neared the restaurant, the snow got even worse. But we figured we were almost there, so we kept going.
When we got to the restaurant, it was already dark. The parking lot was full of deep snow but empty of cars. We feared the place was closed, but it wasn’t. A waiter showed us to a table by the fireplace at the far end of the restaurant. We sat down, ordered, talked, and then began to enjoy our meal. We were the only two people in the restaurant.
As we were finishing up, a woman came in and sat at a table near the door, far from us. A few minutes later another woman came in, the two hugged each other excitedly, and then sat down together. Now there were four people in the restaurant.
When Tim and I finished our meal we got up to leave. In order to do that, we had to walk right by the women’s table. As we did, one of the women called out, “Father Tim!” She was a parishioner at a parish where Tim sometimes helped out with Mass on the weekends. Tim introduced us. “Melannie, this is Mary Ann Ryan…Mary Ann, this is Sister Melannie.” He just happened not to use my last name. As we talked, she kept staring at me. After a few moments she said, “You look very familiar.” I said, “I’m not from the Detroit area. I’m from Cleveland.” She said, “I’m from Cleveland too.” We named our high schools and colleges and saw no connection.
I was aghast. “I am Dolly Svoboda,” I said.
The woman screamed, “Dolly, it’s me—Mary Ann Czech!” As soon as she said her maiden name, I recognized her. I began to scream too. We began hugging each other and jumping up and down—while Tim and Mary Ann’s friend stared in amazement. Then we explained. My Aunt Mae lived near East 65th street in Cleveland. When I was a little girl, I would go “on vacation” to her house. Mary Ann lived across the street. She and I used to play together. My Aunt moved to Florida when I was in 7th grade, so I never saw Mary Ann after that. We lost track of each other. She had heard that I entered the convent, but she didn’t know which order or my “nun name.” Yet here we were, 35 years later, in a restaurant near Detroit meeting each other again—against incredible odds!
Later I reflected all the “chance happenings” that made this reunion possible: Tim received the gift card for this particular restaurant. Not another one. He asked me to go with him and not someone else. We just happened to pick that particular Thursday. We kept driving despite the bad weather. Mary Ann and her friend had picked that restaurant and that Thursday by chance too. They too kept driving despite the snow. We were the only four people in the restaurant that night. Tim and I had to walk by their table to leave. If Mary Ann had not recognized Tim and called out to him, we would have walked right by their table. If Mary Ann had not recognized me, we would have parted never knowing we had just met a childhood friend.
I lived in Detroit for six years. During that time Mary Ann and I rekindled our friendship. Despite our differences (she was a wife, mother, and nurse while I was a nun, teacher, and writer) we found we still have much in common and enjoy each other as much as when played together as children.
Chance happening? Coincidence? Or something more? I know where I stand. I think God wanted the two of us to meet again and God, the Great Choreographer, arranged our reunion in that restaurant in Detroit on that snowy night.
Our song is “Without Seeing You” by David Haas. It captures that great religious truth that God is with us in the ordinary and extraordinary events of our daily lives.
Have you ever experienced a “coincidence” that you felt was orchestrated by God?
Does anything in this story stand out for you?
I invite you to share a thought with us. We are enriched by the responses from our readers…
PS: I thoroughly enjoyed my retreat. More later!