Judging a Book by Its Cover: “What the Death of a Friend Revealed”

An Ordinary Day
January 17, 2019
Being Green
February 22, 2019
An Ordinary Day
January 17, 2019
Being Green
February 22, 2019

by Sr Joan Jurski, OSF

I recently received a letter that my former assistant in the Office of Peace and Justice, Raleigh, NC had died. Phyllis was a competent and creative worker. More than a fellow worker, she was also my friend. Phyllis and I both left Raleigh eventually. She moved to Tennessee and we stayed in touch. To describe Phyllis externally one might say she was plain in dress and simple in physical appearance. To describe her internally one would say she was a woman of great faith, spiritually in contact with her God, caring and compassionate.

Phyllis was married to Stan. On the few occasions I met Stan I was rather surprised at the difference in appearance between Stan and Phyllis. I wondered about their relationship since Stan was not interested in religion. Stan and Phyllis were opposite in so many ways. His external appearance as a businessperson in coat and tie did not seem to fit the picture in my mind as the husband of a person like Phyllis. As time went on, I developed a less than positive view of Stan so it surprised me to receive a letter from him. The letter brought the sad news of her death and revealed much more. Its contents gave me cause to rethink my impression of Stan. It revealed something very different about the man and his relationship to Phyllis than I had imagined.

In his letter, Stan wrote about his wife and her last days.  He said, “Driving back from the hospital on the day that we discovered the cancer was not treatable; Phyllis turned to me and said, ‘I want to do this in a way that pleases God.’ I think God was pleased with the way Phyllis lived the next 6 months after she received news that there was no cure for her cancer. She was as selfless as a human being can be. I knew the pain she suffered, since I was her caregiver. However, she never burdened anyone with that pain. During Phyllis’ last days I thought about all the people she had helped, and realized she was as close to a saint as anyone I had ever met. She passed away at home, surrounded by family. She was comfortable, brave and washed in love. I know she looks forward to seeing you in Heaven.” He bragged about her spiritual life and the strength of her faith.

My original judgement of Stan disappeared. Here was a man who loved his wife, who cared for her. This was a picture of a loving marriage relationship. How often outward appearances have locked me in judgement. I need to stop and look deeper into the humanity of a person. Today it is so easy to judge one by external appearances be it color, age, gender, youth, religious preference, or political choice.

I sat with this letter, cried, thanked God for Phyllis and thought about how often I can judge people by outward appearances. I, too, look forward to meeting Phyllis in Heaven some day and Stan as well.

Sister Joan Jurski


Sister Joan Jurski recently retired as the Director of the Regina Retreat and Conference Center after ten years.  She continues to guide mini-pilgrimages on the campus for visitors several times each year. Sister Joan was a teacher for 28 years and served in a variety of pastoral ministries for over 25 years. "Through each ministry - teaching, serving the homeless, parish and justice work, and spirituality, my service has been about people and living the message that 'Joy is the echo of God's light,'" she says.

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Shelley Lee Zavala
5 years ago

This was a great reminder of how important it is to not “ judge a book by its cover “. Thank you for sharing this story and reminding me of this valuable lesson.

Sister Irenaeus
5 years ago

Thank you Sister Joan for this very personal sharing of your friend Phyllis and especially of her husband Stan. Yes, how often we make a judgment from external appearances, behavior, actions, and are SO WRONG! What we see in persons, others may have a whole different way of seeing them. Stan was your perfect example. What a loving and caring person he really was and all the ways he shared the goodness of his wife with you. We can sure learn from your sharing.

Sister Mary Thill
5 years ago

Thanks, Joan, for sharing such a beautiful story of love and conversion.

Claudia Bronsing
5 years ago

Thanks Joan for sharing this. Sorry for the loss of your friend.

Sister Maria Pacelli
5 years ago

Joan, thank you for sharing this story of your dear friend. How blessed you are to have known her as a friend. You give us all cause to stop and look more closely at people before we make judgments. Hopefully, like Phyllis, we too will do what is pleasing to God..

Shannon Schrein
5 years ago

Very thoughtfully written, Joan. Thanks for sharing the story of your dear friend Phyllis.

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