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Jerry Costello

Helping Families Find Wholeness and Holiness

Let me tell you about a remarkable woman named Cubby LaHood. She died of cancer a few weeks ago, at the young age of 59, near her home in suburban Washington, D.C. I read about her in the pages of the Catholic Standard in a story by Mark Zimmermann, the editor. She and her husband, Dan, opened their home to disabled youngsters three decades ago. They treated them like their own, and were loving stepparents to scores of them. Her funeral filled their parish church with mourners and warm tributes—and a few that were slightly irreverent.               

                Her given name was Annalise, but everyone called her Cubby, the nickname she had had since childhood. (It came from one of the Mickey Mouse Club’s “Mouseketeers”—remember?—and as childhood nicknames often do, stayed with her forever.) Cubby LaHood was no saint, said her 22-year-old daughter, Mary Frances, one of the eulogists at the funeral; she smoked and drank beer, Mary Frances said. But she sure knew how to treat disabled children.

                That began after the birth of Joe (now 31), one of their own children, when they made their own home available to the handicapped. The commitment only deepened a couple of years later when another son, Francis, was born disabled himself and subsequently died, just a few minutes old.

                Cubby had the help and support of Dan all the way. “She always said ‘yes,’” was the way he put it. Soon they were calling their ministry St. Joseph’s House, and were taking on all comers: those in wheelchairs, some who couldn’t express themselves, some who needed help with their food. “Saying yes meant offering respite care so families could get a rest,” Zimmermann wrote in his story. “Saying yes sometimes meant holding and loving a screaming child through the night.”

                Margaret Kolm, ministry coordinator in the Washington Archdiocese’s Department of Special Needs, put her tribute in writing. Cubby LaHood, she said, “helped many families find the way back to wholeness, and sometimes even holiness, through her conviction that with love—God’s love—all things are possible.”

                Cecilia Cooley, whose daughter Caitlin found a haven at St. Joseph’s House before her death in 2001, hailed both Cubby and Dan for dealing with “wheelchairs, walkers, feeding tubes, seizures, medications, tantrums.” There were “trips to the doctor’s office and hospitals to visit the sick…This was all in a day’s work.” She noted: “St. Joseph’s House was the lifeboat, the community that gave us hope, taught us that each life is indeed a gift and that we could weather any storm.”

                Cubby LaHood, she said, “helped turn my tragedy into a celebration of life.”

                Along the way Cubby taught lessons to all the residents of St. Joseph’s House, and helped them in their preparation for the sacraments. She had certainly gotten the Christopher message, especially the belief that “you are one of a kind, created by God with innate dignity and ability.”

                Just two days before the October funeral for Cubby LaHood, a teenage girl with Down syndrome named Gina Baldini, a regular at St. Joseph’s House, bounded up to none other than Pope Francis himself, hugging him for all she was worth when she reached him. 

                You just knew that somewhere Cubby was smiling.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note CHOOSE HOPE, SHARE HOPE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org