I took religion class that year, but what I learned from my religion teacher was that all questions are answered with, "It's dogma." As an adult, I understand that the most likely reason for that sister's responses to me were that I was asking questions she didn't have answers to herself. She wasn't used to being asked real questions, the other kids took their faith for granted and weren't all that interested in learning. I was hungry for the faith and hungry for answers. Sadly, that teacher's trite answers would contribute to my decision to leave the Church just three years later because I assumed there were no answers to be found.
Elizabeth Barnes didn't teach me religion. She taught me how to find my faith. She taught us how to make rosaries, and how to pray them. She told us about having met in person the priest who performed the exorcism that inspired the movie Poltergeist, and how story was true but it was a little boy and not a little girl. In fact, she told us that the movie was based on the diary that priest left behind. Faith was real and tangible and meaningful in her classroom.
That year, the first Gulf War broke out just as my oldest sister was finishing her basic training. The faith Mrs. Barnes passed on to me gave me the encouragement I needed to form a rosary prayer group. Every day after lunch we went upstairs to pray the rosary. It was just a handful of us in the beginning, but as the war progressed more and more students would join us to pray. The war was over in months instead of years, and though I wouldn't know it for many years afterward those prayers saved her life. Of all the things I learned in Mrs. Barnes' classroom - the most important was the power of the rosary.
Unbeknownst to me, that rosary did more than save my sister's life. Like a chain crafted of divine roses, it kept me tethered to the Church when I would try to wander too far, bringing me back again and again until I had no desire to leave because I finally understood that great gift present in the church. It is the rosary that finally brought my husband to a knowledge of the Lord and a love of Jesus Christ, fixed a wounded marriage, and mended what was broken.
If not for Elizabeth Barnes, I would not be Catholic today and that, I think, would be a greater tragedy than those written by Shakespeare himself. Wherever you are, Mrs. Elizabeth Barnes, I hope someday to be able to thank you in person for the gift you gave to me.