When she returned from the White House after receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal last February, Mary Jo Copeland “had it on her heart” to publish a revised edition of her biography, first written in 2003.
She knew an updated version could reach even more people with her message of God’s love and her work with the poor and homeless, she said, and it could inspire readers to make a difference themselves.
The book, “Great Love: The Mary Jo Copeland Story” written and revised by Michelle Peterson Hinck, describes her life before her work at Sharing and Caring Hands — from a difficult childhood with an abusive father and inattentive mother, to her marriage to Dick Copeland and the adventures of raising 12 children.
Copeland talks in the book about the deep depression she suffered as a young mother and how, as her children became teenagers, she found herself listening to the troubles of their friends and other neighborhood teens. That experience put her on the road to recovery and set the stage for what would become her life’s work.
“The story in itself of what I’ve done with my life can inspire others to do things; it’s not just about me,” Copeland said. “It’s about what people can do to change their lives in spite of their own suffering. So many people just don’t realize the difference they can make.”
The book includes stories of some of the people that have come to Sharing and Caring Hands and Mary’s Place in Minneapolis — some in need of food, a lot in need of medical care, and all in need of hope.
Copeland loves them all. “It’s just a joy that God has sent them here,” she says.
“There are a couple of powerful stories in there,” she said. “But I want people to realize that’s just two of the hundreds.”
One addition to the original book is a chapter on Copeland’s visit to the White House last February to accept the Presidential Citizens Medal. Copeland said it was a little overwhelming to be at the White House and to see the others there receiving awards, including military service people who had previously received Purple Hearts.
“I wondered what I was doing there, but I knew God had sent me there,” she said. “I got a chance to give the president a Sacred Heart badge and told him I prayed for him.”
“That experience was good,” Copeland said. “As much as I don’t believe in all the policies, I certainly believe that he’s a good man and we need to pray for him and for the changes he needs to make.”
A second addition to the book is an epilogue describing the drastic social and economic challenges in the 10 years since the book was originally published. It includes current statistics — 437 children now call Mary’s Place home, for example. There are now more refugee families coming to the Twin Cities from around the world. Copeland talks about the growing numbers of Somali refugees seeking help.
“Mary Jo would never consider her operation as a social service agency,” said Father Joseph Johnson, pastor of Holy Family in St. Louis Park and Copeland’s spiritual adviser, who wrote a reflection published at the end of the book.
“She sees herself as a servant of God, and her mission is to bring His love to the world,” he writes. “As such, she makes no distinction between people of different races or religions. She is in the business of love — the same unconditional love that God shows to all of His children.”
Power of prayer
“I hope that people walk away from this book realizing how important prayer is in their life,” Copeland said. “The power and the peace and the strength in prayer change so many things in our lives. I don’t care what denomination you are, or where you come from, it’s such a vital thing to keep our lives balanced and focused.”
The new revised edition of “Great Love: The Mary Jo Copeland Story” is available at bookstores, including St. Patrick’s Guild and Leaflet Missal and online at http://www.amazon.com. For information about Sharing and Caring Hands, visit http://www.sharingandcaringhands.org.