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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Chance Happening—or Something More?

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.

snow-car-pexels-photo-58098-mediumWhen 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.

After a few more minutes she said, “Do you know a Dolly Svoboda.” (Dolly is my flame-657153__180nickname.)

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.

Mary Ann and I shortly after our “chance reunion” in 1993.

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!

19 Responses

  1. What a great story Sr. Melannie! I have one like that too.

    On the way back home from a Christmas visit, we ran into my brother-in-law and his wife traveling in the opposite direction at a rest stop. We were able to share a bit of time together after our paths crossed.


  2. Dear Sr. Melannie — a.k.a. Dolly!

    What a terrific story! Yes! Absolutely orchestrated by God! Just beautiful! Okay, so listen to this: It’s 1999, I’m teaching a class of juniors, and it’s the last period of the day. I’m telling them about a student I once had named Leilani Paniagua. Leilani came to the high school as a freshman in 1990, and she spoke very little English. She was in my freshman class, and as the year went on, her English got better and better. I still remember her reciting from memory Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Anyway, by the time she graduated, she was fully fluent in English and went on to college. Now comes the miracle! The very second I concluded the story of Leilani there was a knock on my classroom door. It was Leilani! She came to visit and to pass along a short story she had written. I gave her a big hug, and she left. My students were thunderstruck! They claimed I set the whole thing up! Till this day, the most amazing “God-incidence” I’ve ever experienced!

  3. It was May, 1984. I was a graduate student obtaining a Ph.D. One of the requirements was passing “Cums”. These are exams on any aspect of the discipline. You had to pass 7 within three years and from Oct. to May there were 8 Cums on the first Friday of each month. My Aunt Dot had a strong devotion to St. Anthony and on the Tuesday before each exam she would begin her prayers that I would “find” the correct way to answer the questions. Tuesday is St. Anthony’s Day. I began the exams on October of 1983 and with St. Anthony’s help was successful. On that May morning I was walking to the Graduate Center on 42nd Street in NYC and saw a woman coming toward me that looked like my aunt. Now that seemed impossible – my aunt does not come to NYC, much less 42nd Street. Yet it was – her daughter took her to the “Big Apple” as a Mother’s Day gift and we met right outside the entrance to the Graduate Center. When I went into the school, I was greeted with congratulations that I had passed 7 out of 8 “Cums” within one year. To this day, I believe St. Anthony made certain that my Aunt Dot and I would “find” each other that Tuesday morning in May on busy 42nd Street in NYC.

  4. I had a similar experience recently. We moved to North Carolina this summer. In September we were on our way north for a family wedding and stopped in Virginia for gas and lunch. After we sat down a woman approached us and spoke my name in a questioning manner. It was a cousin I haven’t seen in years! She and her husband were on their way to Myrtle Beach from Lakewood and had stopped for gas and lunch. It was nice to catch up. We have also met a niece in Niagara Falls and a brother-in-law at Denver airport! We are told to look for God in the face of strangers, and I find family!

  5. A friend I was in Marymount convent with in high school (1956-60) tried to contact me through my husband’s Facebook account back in 2012. Due to both she and he not understanding Facebook procedures, I never got her message until recently. We are many miles apart but have rekindled a friendship that is a blessing to both of us in these later years. Time is nothing to God! I love your blog, Sister!

  6. Sr. Melannie, Loved your story! Brought tears to my eyes. Also loved seeing the picture of you and Mary Ann! As they say, ” God works in strange ways”. So happy He does!

  7. Wonderful story and beautiful song.

    A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, he who finds one finds a treasure.
    SIRACH 6:14

  8. Wow all these stories bring tears to my eyes I too have an amazing
    encounter. When my husband and 2 girls moved 20 miles from Clevelands Little Italy to Olmsted Falls on the West side in 1989 I worked at a nursing home.
    It was a special job created ( miracle #1) I did not have experience. I had made friends with a coworker Rosetta ( miracle #2) The postion was short lived but I remained friends with Rosetta. In 1995 my mother’s health was declining, On a phone conversation to Rosetta I told her I was visiting my mom daily at a nursing home in Little Italy in Cleveland, there was silence on the other end of the phone then she asked what’s your maden name? When I told her she gasped…we Are cousins! Our grandmas were sisters.
    Part of the reason we did not know each other is that we’re 20 years apart.
    God is Amazing

  9. I love reading your reflections…this one sure proves the old saying that “Co-incidence is God’s way of remaining Anonymous!” I so enjoy our amazing God of Surprises!

  10. When I was 21, I married and went to Germany. I kept seeing a man at a breakfast cafe that I went to that looked just like one of my a friends Dad. He was bald headed and every day that I went there, he was sitting in there. I thought, boy he sure looks like Levie’s Dad, but what is the chance? They lived about a block from my house in Arkansas! Finally, one day, I stopped and spoke to him. Guess who it was, Levi’ s Dad from Texarkana, Ark. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I was so young and it just let me know. God is in control.

  11. I have had similar experiences, they all bring smiles to my face. I keep a journal and write these coincidences down, so I can not forget how good God is. I am sure you know the saying, ‘Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.’

  12. Wonderful, Sr. Melannie! Definitely divine intervention! Divine intervention was how I met my husband! I worked in a nursing home and we had a program one evening. I told my friend, “I HAVE to go dancing.” She was tired and wanted to go the following evening, but I told her “I HAVE to go TONIGHT.” I couldn’t tell her why, because I didn’t know why. I had never been to a “club” before, but that night I felt compelled to go dancing. Sam had plans to go with his friend to this club the night before, but something came up and he changed his plans to that evening. He asked me to dance that night and now we have been married almost 32 years. The strange thing is that it was the only time I ever went to a dance club.

  13. Sr. Melannie, your stories and columns are always inspiring and faith-building! I love that example of the “miracles” God works in our lives through “coincidence”. That one is one of the most remarkable I’ve heard of, AND I loved the David Haas song to go with it.
    This summer I met for the first time since our high school graduation in 1963 a classmate of mine with whom my husband and his friends had spent summers during their childhood. She then “disappeared” and everyone lost track of her. She came back to see her old friends, and we met at dinner at one of their houses. She had been just as surprised that I’d married my husband, her childhood friend, as I was to learn they all had known each other then. We have seen each other multiple times since, and when travelling, she persuaded us to take a short detour and stay with her. It has been wonderful to re-connect with her after a lifetime! and discover what a treasure of a person she is! But it’s still not as much of a coincidence as your story which is really lovely! Thank you for sharing!

  14. I totally get this phenomenon. Totally. Well, I say totally because it happens to me quite often even though I have no rational explanation for these occurrences. My friends and co-workers speak of my “antenna.” The Spirit gets lots of credit here for all of these so-called coincidences which feel more like a collision of energy.

  15. I graduated high school in California in 1961 & moved to Texas. The only time I spoke with classmates until the late 90s was reunions & phone. I walked out to get my mail one afternoon & said hi to a woman walking her dog. We talked a long time about our jobs & dogs. She looked so familiar that at last I had to ask. It turned out we both attended the same high school & graduated together. How could it be that two girls from a class of 85 girls at St. Andrew’s High School in Pasadena, California could end up !iving in the same subdivision, even having the same realtor?? That day was 30+ years after we graduated! It still amazes us. Yes, Sister, everything had to be orchestrated to become that very moment in time. Only the sweet Lord knows how He did it!!

  16. In my 77 years, I have experienced many such “coincidences”. One such experience occurred a few years back when my sister, Ruth, and I were on a Genealogy trip. We stopped at the Courthouse in Lebonon, Nelson County, KY to search for the marriage certificate of a pair of great-great grandparents who we thought were married in 1850. In front of the Courthouse was a plaque stating that Morgan’s Raiders had burned the courthouse and all records on July 5, 1863. We decided to check anyway and discovered that just two weeks prior someone had donated a box of about 20 old documents which the courthouse historians had put into a three ring binder. Our great-great grandparents marriage certificate was there!
    If family members had not saved the original documents, if someone had not decided to donate them, had we come two weeks earlier or not decided to go in and double check, we would never have found the marriage certificate. Coincidence? I choose not to think so.

  17. I’ve been blessed with such “coincidences” more times than I can count and have enjoyed each one, even the awkward ones because I trust the author of such things. I have also used your “the Great Choreographer”metaphor as many times when I relate these happenings to friends who blame coincidence. “Not really” I explain, ” Just a little miracle bought to you by…………!

  18. You just beat all, in the great stories you tell. Love everyone one of them.
    Yes, I also have had those “God moments” meeting someone. It can take your breath away. There’s something about that, that brings tears to my eyes. It’s just such a God thing.
    Thanks for sharing.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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