I remember the day that a very young Deacon recently sent to St. Catherine Laboure Catholic School walked into my second grade classroom. He had a thick, wavy shock of black hair like I had never seen before, he had the brightest smile, dark skin and a very different nose, too. He seemed really interesting to all of us kids, but it was when he started to speak that we really thought the most exotic, interesting and fun human being was going to teach us that day! Father Federico Higuera was from Mexico, and his words as he spoke sounded like music to our little, uncultured ears.
“You are all little flowers as God’s children and every day that you pray, think of Him and do kind things for each other, you grow into a stronger, brighter bloom and this delights God! God delights in you!” In his rolling spanish accent I hung on his every word. He, too, was brimming with delight. He sang to us, he made everything fun and freeing, and he made us believe we were the most special creatures on the entire planet, because we are all that special to God. Never before had I been so taken by all things divine. Father Federico made me fall deeply in love with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Saints and Angels – and in miracles, too.
That same year, my happy family who was very active in the church and in the town where we lived in Southern Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri – began to fall apart. I didn’t understand what was happening, just that my Dad no longer lived with us, and he was very sad not to be with us and only visited sometimes on weekends. My two older brothers tried to be away from home a lot, and my Mother’s mood dramatically changed and she lost her temper frequently, further adding to insecurity and for me, insomnia and a deep sadness and even shame. I was confused and sullen. My world was upside down with no explanation. I was only about 8 years old.
The only light we had was Father Federico, who took my entire family comprised of four children and my Mother, under his loving, kind, nurturing wing and he brought joy back into our home, and happy distractions to us kids with day trips to local orchards or farms. We adored Father Federico, and he adored all of us! We felt special and important and loved again. I am not sure my words could ever truly convey just how significant this changed the spectrum of our intense experience as a family who simply would have been more lost and destroyed without his watchful eye and presence.
He taught me to squint my eyes when the sun was shining so that I could see a glittery sparkle dance on the leaves of trees, grasses and plants, as well as on the surface of lakes and rivers that he took us to visit. He encouraged me to explore and understand that there is a much larger world at play, behind what we see in front of us.
He once took all of us to a nearby ranch where we stood at a wooden fence, overlooking a pasture full of more than 20 beautiful horses. Horses were my life at the time, I was fascinated by them and collected them in my bedroom. We each took a turn trying to neigh and make sounds like a horse. I wondered aloud, that if I could neigh really loud, would the horses think I was one of them? I experimented with this curiosity. I climbed up two rails of the wooden fencing, neighed as loud as I could and suddenly all of those horses stopped what they were doing, looked up from grazing, pricked their ears at attention, then came galloping towards all of us! Father Federico yelped and ran away, my Mother backed away and even my brothers backed up a bit, but I stayed on the fence with a huge smile on my face, welcoming this huge herd of horses that somehow answered my call to them. It was a profound moment in my life. It still is. Thank you to this lovely man who just wanted us to have experiences that were happy and stress free, amidst our family falling apart.
Father Federico’s genuine enthusiasm for every little bit of life, for nature, for creation, for children, for art – everything, impacted me in ways I was not aware of until I was well into adulthood. He naturally squeezed sheer joy from simple moments of making a cup of hot tea, washing dishes, driving to a corner market. He transformed normal into exceptional and special. He was fun and laughed all of the time. He was in a perpetual state of delight, awaiting the next moment he would be delighted. He once watched my lovely rescue dog, Kirra, as she sniffed her way through his flower gardens in Anna, Illinois and giggled. He leaned over the table and said, “You know, this is how I know that God is delighted, and what His nature is like, by watching his creatures. She is in pure joy, just being. This is how God wants us to be.”
He taught me to have more understanding and compassion for a Mother who, because of a brain injury during a car accident long before I was born, was unable to control her mood or temper quite often. This was hard for me. As a teenager, I knew I was robbed of a normal, secure home life with a Father far away in another state, and a Mother who’s mood was so destructive and unpredictable we lived in constant stress as children. It helped. He was able to see far beyond a person’s behavior, and into the wound they bore, leading him to never judge people and to have compassion for their journey. I loved this about him. I had never before or since known someone to have this deep, vast ocean of compassion for every person. Barring no one and nothing else. His love led the way always.
The most important thing Father Federico taught me by his Fatherly presence always in my life for nearly 40 years, was that God and our Angels are so very real, always working on behalf of our highest good and happiness, and that miracles are very real. That the fact that babies are born every day is, in fact, a miracle, and that God does not play favorites – He always loves, always forgives, and always leads you to Him and to greater love. He taught me by listening to me during hours-long conversations by phone or in person, that my spiritual and mystical experiences required further study, and were to be honored and explored further. That no matter how bizarre my experiences could be received by someone, this did not take away from the truth of my experiences, and that those experiences should still be shared. Because people needed hope and to know that ‘normal’ people just like me, had otherworldly experiences of a divine nature, confirming that indeed, we are never alone. He taught me that magic is in nature, and the miracles of nature and all of creation.
Father Federico Higuera did so much more than to love or care for me my entire life, he inspired me to believe in the unseen, and to understand that sometimes the unseen ‘mysteries’ are far more significant than what we actually see before us at any given moment. I hope that through this sharing about my greatest inspirational figure, you, too, believe in magic and miracles and remember that you are never alone. Let Father Federico inspire you too, to be in joy and expect to be delighted.