Local woman gets baptized at age 99

| April 4, 2017 | 1 Comment

Carol Sullivan can now call herself Catholic, having been baptized Nov. 17, 2016, at Lake Minnetonka Shores in Spring Park. Father Tony O’Neill, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Mound, baptized her. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A casual conversation at a nursing home in Spring Park last fall led to the baptism of a woman just two months shy of her 100th birthday.

Carla LaBore, adult faith formation coordinator at Our Lady of the Lake in Mound, was making the rounds at Lake Minnetonka Shores senior community, knocking on doors and asking Catholic residents if they wanted Communion or, perhaps, a priest to come and hear their confession.

She walked in to see Carol Sullivan in October 2016, and inquired about her sacramental needs. Sullivan wanted both Communion and confirmation, but there was a problem — she had never been baptized.

“I almost fell over when she said she had never been baptized,” said LaBore, who makes regular visits to Minnetonka Shores and had visited with Sullivan previously because Sullivan had listed herself as Catholic.

“It just blew me away.”

LaBore then posed the delicate request to Sullivan about receiving the sacrament that would initiate her faith journey into the Catholic Church.

Sullivan’s response?

“Well, I think it’s time,” she recalled saying. “You have to get prepared for what comes next.”

She was, of course, referring to the end of her life. Though in good health overall, she adopted a practical approach to why it made sense to receive the waters of baptism.

But first, scrutiny was in order. Finding the admission so surprising, LaBore wanted to be sure it was true. She checked at St. Gabriel the Archangel, which had a copy of Sullivan’s marriage certificate from her wedding to a Catholic at St. Joseph in Hopkins Aug. 2, 1937.

Sure enough, the word “unbaptized” appeared on the certificate. Further exploration in the place of her birth, Hill City in northern Minnesota, came up empty as well. Her parents and grandparents both belonged to the local Methodist church, which had no record of Sullivan being baptized there.

“Somehow, it fell through the cracks,” LaBore said.

The next step was to schedule the baptism. LaBore suggested waiting until her 100th birthday Jan. 25, but Sullivan wouldn’t hear of it. She was too worried something might happen before then. Instead, Sullivan received all three sacraments of initiation Nov. 17, 2016.

Father Tony O’Neill, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake, baptized and confirmed her and gave her first Communion. Her sponsors were her two living children, Jeanne Zuleger, 66, who lives just four blocks away and attends Immaculate Conception in Watertown, and Patrick Sullivan, 79.

“I think it was a great day, and it was something that she wanted and made her feel good,” Zuleger said. “She’s talked about it quite a few times since. So, I think she was more excited than she [admits].”

Sullivan remembers that “the priest was very generous with the water,” she said. “It was running down the back of my head.”

Sullivan had looked into joining the Church as early as the 1940s, and was taking a class at St. Therese in Deephaven. But, she stopped short of finishing the journey. A sticking point was confession.

She continues to be shy about the sacrament today. But, she got some good news about that on the day she joined the Church.

“She didn’t have to [go to confession],” LaBore said. “Baptism wipes away all of our sins. And, the first time I told her that, she was pretty excited.”

Does she think she will give reconciliation a try now that she’s a Catholic?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what I have to confess. I mean, what can I do [wrong] here? It’s kind of easy to behave when you can’t do anything [wrong].”

These days, LaBore is sure to have Eucharist with her when she knocks on Sullivan’s door. Every time she walks in, she can recall the scene that took place in the chapel, when a priest baptized someone more than twice his age.

“She had a pretty big smile on her face,” LaBore said. “She was grinning from ear to ear, and she had a nice, fancy suit on. She was all decked out.”



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