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Monica Doumit: On the shoulders of giants

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‘We stand on the shoulders of giants: men and women, priests and laity, who have for decades fought similar battles.’ Photo: Unsplash.com
‘We stand on the shoulders of giants: men and women, priests and laity, who have for decades fought similar battles.’ Photo: Unsplash.com

Just before Easter, I received a letter in the mail. The writer was Denis Strangman, an 80-year-old man living in a retirement village in the ACT.

I had never met Denis in person, but I recognised his name from an email he had sent me about the exclusion laws around abortion clinics back in 2017. I also knew him to be a strong advocate against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Denis’ wife, Margaret, died in 2001 from a brain tumour and so he founded an organisation called the International Brain Tumour Alliance, a global network of patients and carers that engages in advocacy and support work.

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Denis was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for his “significant service to community health through advocacy, public policy, and support organisations for people with brain tumours.” Not bad for a retirement gig.

Like me, Denis had once written for The Catholic Weekly, which was something I did not learn until I read his letter.

The reason Denis wrote to me was to tell me a little about himself, and also to offer me a monetary gift, so that I might buy some books or attend a conference to extend my knowledge in pro-life matters.

It took me a couple of weeks to write back to him because I was reluctant to accept the generosity of someone I had never met.

I penned him a letter thanking him and agreeing to his kind offer, enclosing a Mass offering and asking him to pray for me.

He sent me the gift on 20 April and, just six days later, he passed away.

I didn’t know it at the time, but when Denis wrote to me, he was in the final stages of fighting terminal cancer.

Denis Strangman. Photo: Supplied
Denis Strangman. Photo: Supplied

One of his last actions, it seems, was to show kindness to a woman he had never met, but in whom he must have seen some of his own desire to promote a culture of life.

Even as I sit writing this article, a month after his death, I am moved to tears over the memory of this great man whom I never met.

I wonder what he would have said had he have lived to see the current attempts by the ACT Government to take over Calvary Hospital.

No doubt he would have signed the petition, called and written to his local member, and done everything else within his abilities to join the fight.

Denis is the most recent, but certainly not the first correspondent I have had from a retirement village or a nursing home.

From time to time, I will receive a note, usually in beautiful, cursive handwriting, from an elderly gentleman wanting to offer some encouragement and share some thoughts on the current culture wars.

Sometimes they will send me something to keep on my desk to aid in the fight; whether it be a prayer card, a photograph they have taken of something beautiful, or a similar trinket.

Often, they will include articles that might be of interest, and I even had one dear, old priest handwrite sections of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that he thought were pertinent to the religious freedom battles.

I can’t tell you what it does to my heart to receive these letters.

It is a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of giants: men and women, priests and laity, who have for decades fought similar battles to those we face today. It is a welcome sign that we are never alone in the fight, that in addition to the intercession of the saints in heaven, we also have an army of the church here on Earth at our side.

It is also an encouragement to keep going, because if my correspondents are still participating in these fights from their retirement homes or even their deathbeds, then we have no excuse to be quiet or disengaged.

Every time I receive one of these letters, I always make the same prayer request of the author. I ask that they pray for me, that I will still be zealous for truth, for freedom for faith, and for a culture of life and love when I am their age.

I am so glad I got to make this request of Denis before he passed, because now I can be certain he is interceding for me from heaven.

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