MQA student surprised with letter from hospital patient for Christmas Care Card
By Paul Paterra
Carl J. Castille of Greensburg was one of thousands of patients in area hospitals who felt isolated during the past holiday season as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from having visitors.
But kindergartner Ethan Bates changed that. Ethan, who attends Mary Queen of Apostles School in New Kensington sent a card that he decorated to Castille as part of the Christmas Care Card project, which involved 800 students from Diocese of Greensburg schools.
To show his gratitude, Castille sent a reply to Ethan in January letting him know how much the card meant to him.
“You have made an 80-year-old grandfather very happy,” Castille wrote to Ethan. “Because of complications from the coronavirus, I was a patient in the (Excela) Westmoreland Hospital on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Safety regulations did not allow visits from family and friends. Your amusing and delightful Christmas card reminded me of the true meaning of Christmas, a time to celebrate with great joy the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Because of your Christmas card, I was able to turn away from my own isolation and focus on the miracle of God becoming man and showing us how to live Christian lives to earn our place with Him in heaven.
“May you continue to grow in God’s grace through the remainder of the school year at Mary Queen of Apostles School. I will continue to pray for you and ask that you do the same for me.”
The COVID-19 pandemic may be lessening, but a tidal wave of need is coming, even emotionally. Projects, such as the Christmas Care Cards, aim to meet that need. Father Anthony J. Carbone, Diocesan Mission Director, said there are currently no projects in the planning stages, but anyone interested in going on a mission or establishing a project can contact the Missions Office at 724-837-0901, Ext. 1334.
Ethan and his twin sister Emma, both 6 years old, saw the Christmas Care Card project as something fun, a chance to draw Christmas trees or wreaths and write “Merry Christmas” in the card in which they placed prayer cards. They did all of that on a number of cards. But the project transformed into much more once the letter was received.
Nancy Bates, Ethan and Emma’s mother, said she was speechless upon seeing Castille’s reply to her son.
“I was blown away,” she said. “I’m still speechless that someone took the time and sent it back to him and made the effort to ensure this went to Ethan. It touched me and my husband. It made my heart feel good that (Ethan), at such a young age, could have such an impact on someone. I was so proud of both of them for what they did and what they learned from it.”
She said Ethan probably doesn’t quite comprehend the impact his effort had, but did say he was happy to receive the letter.
“He was excited that someone wrote to him and liked his card and took the time to do that,” Nancy Bates said.
The Christmas Care Card project was one of two holiday outreaches that resulted in gifts for patients at Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, Indiana Regional Medical Center, Armstrong Center for Medicine and Health in Kittanning and Uniontown Hospital during the holiday season. As part of the second outreach, Diocesan Mission Director Father Carbone asked parishes for assistance, resulting in rosaries, pocket prayer shawls, blankets, prayer cards and scapulars blessed by then Bishop-elect Larry J. Kulick being donated to patients.
“It was a sign of the concern people have for others,” Father Carbone said of the projects. “At that time of year, you want to be close to people and it was impossible because of some of the restrictions that had been in place. People were deprived of that contact. Knowing that someone cared about them I’m sure was very beneficial to many people.”
The Christmas Care Card project involved 800 Catholic school students who have benefitted from the Saint Pope John Paul II Tuition Opportunity Partnership, which was founded by anonymous donors who received Catholic educations and were profoundly influenced by Pope John Paul II.
Cards and gifts poured into the diocese, with a number of students making multiple donations.
“With any little act of kindness given or received, you have no idea of the impact it will have on somebody else,” Nancy Bates said. “This brought everything that happened in the past year full circle. It made you feel good about everything that has gone on. It was a very good project and I look forward to any they get to do in the future.”