By Sister Nancy Ann Surma, OSF
I’ve had a thing about St. Ann, the mother of the Mary, since I was a child. My name is a diminutive form of Anne or Ann. My parents must not have been aware of that since my middle name is “Ann.” My father was the one who selected my name. The “Nancy” came from a Frank Sinatra song popular at the time of my birth, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).” The “Ann” came because that was my mother’s name. The feast day of St. Ann is July 26, and I loved to celebrate it with my mother.
When I was growing up, the feast day of Mary’s father, Joachim, was celebrated on August 16. With the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969, his feast was moved and joined with that of St. Ann on July 26. I resented that change, in part because when we prayed the office on that day, the proper for a Holy Man was used. I was upset St. Ann wasn’t getting her due.
Pope Francis has helped me reconcile celebrating both saints together, as this year he proclaimed the fourth Sunday in July to coincide with the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne as World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. The first celebration will be on July 25 with the theme “I am with you always” from the Gospel of Matthew. The Pope says in his message that “This is the promise the Lord made to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. They are the words that he repeats to you today, dear grandfathers, grandmothers and dear elderly friends. ‘I am with you always’ are also the words that I, as Bishop of Rome and an elderly person like yourselves, would like to address to you on this first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. The whole Church is close to you—to us—and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!”
Given my ministry in CHI Living Communities, the subsidiary of CommonSpirit Health that provides a range of care and housing for the elderly, this new celebration is especially dear. It is a day to remind all of us that the elderly have important gifts to offer by the witness of their lives and the power of their prayers. With this reminder, I will gladly celebrate both Ann and Joachim on their feast day.