Mary’s Kitchen: The Killing of a Miracle. PART 1.

In the spring of 1984 the mustard seed of a modern-day miracle was sown.

Mary McAnena was an immigrant from Ireland, who settled in New York City and worked at a hospital as a nurse for many years. After retiring, Mary decided she’d had enough of East Coast winters and migrated to sunny Southern California. There she bought a modest one-story three-bedroom home on a corner lot, two blocks from a park, in the quaint town of Orange, California.

Mary was a wisp of a woman who looked as if a strong breeze could blow her into the next township. And yet she had the grit and sand of the Irish. If she liked you, the smile in her eyes made you feel as warm as a cozy fire in the middle of winter. Get on her bad side, and you felt the cold of the dark side of the moon.

Mary McAnena was a devout Catholic and every day she would traverse the park near her home, Hart Park, on her way to Daily Mass. One day, on her way home from Mass, she spied a woman sitting cross-legged on the grass, eating pork and beans out of a can with her hands. Concerned, Mary asked, ” Why are you doing that?” the woman replied, ” I’m hungry and I’m homeless.” Being a caring and Christian woman, she opened her home to this woman. Mary was 82 years old, the year was 1984.

Over the next few days, Mary fed and clothed that woman until one day she met her on her porch. With broom in hand, she asked the woman if she wouldn’t mind sweeping up the porch. The woman grabbed the broom and began hitting Mary with it, then threw it on the ground and stormed off! Mary was flabbergasted and when she related the story to her friends it was decided that no more homeless would live with Mary. Undaunted, Mary still wanted to help, so she decided that she would make soup and bring it to the homeless. Her friends were inspired and agreed that they would help also.

Over the next 10 years, Mary and a growing number of volunteers began feeding an even more growing number of less fortunate. Eventually, Mary had the homeless gather at Hart Park, where they could be fed and fellowship together. Mary called her group of volunteers, “The Heart of the Park.”

By now the number of less fortunate had grown to well over 100, this began to concern City officials. So they marched down and demanded that Mrs. McAnena cease and desist her operation because after all, they chided, she was attracting the “criminal element.” As they confidently waited for Mary to acquiesce, she turned, look them in the eye and said, “if you don’t let me feed my boys and girls here, then I will invite them to my home and feed them there!” Not able to stop her and unwilling to face the wrath from the voters in the neighborhood around Mary, the city decided to grant Mary a patch of land in the City Yard. There Mary’s boys and girls could be fed out of sight from decent citizens.

So in 1994, the mustard seed of a modern-day miracle was transplanted from Hart Park to 517 Struck Avenue in Orange. It was there under the guidance of Mary’s good friend and protégé Gloria Suess, that that little mustard seed bloomed and grew for the next 27 years, helping so many, without questioning where they came from or how they got there. Growing daily, into the vision of two of the most compassionate and gracious women that ever called Orange County home. Mary was called to her final resting place, 8 years after her little seed was transplanted, she was 100 years old.

Today, 27 years after the move to Struck Avenue, Gloria Suess (above, at right) is facing the same problems with the city of Orange, only this time, Orange corruption has reared its ugly head.

Coming Up:

About Patrick Hogan

Patrick Hogan is a retired surveyor from the international union of Operating Engineers/ local 12. He has had four short stories and five poems published in the last 5 years. He received his Bachelor degree from Eastern Illinois University in 2010. For the last four years he has volunteered at Mary's Kitchen in Orange California.