Plainview Nurse Shares Family Story that Leads Her to Second Papal Mass


Pope Francis waves to a crowd
Pope Francis

Many stories of miraculous events will be shared by the faithful thronging to see Pope Francis during his history-making visit to the United States.

                 In Plainview perioperative nurse Winifred Mele’s case, it is her family’s commitment to healing the community of Huntington’s disease patients that brought her into close contact with both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.

                In 1985, one of Winifred’s sisters served as attorney to Cardinal John O’Connor. Through that relationship, the Cardinal learned that the girls’ father, Jim White, was living with Huntington’s disease, a degenerative neuromuscular disease, and that there was no facility at that time dedicated to the care and treatment of that population. Through the Cardinal’s efforts, a 20-bed unit was created in a Diocese hospital to meet the needs of Huntington’s patients. Jim White became the unit’s first patient.

                The family became very involved in fundraising efforts to benefit Huntington’s disease patients. Because of the family’s devotion to service, they were invited to attend Pope John Paul II’s mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 7, 1995.

                “We sat in the second row. I was able to shake the Holy Father’s hand and also received rosary beads directly from him,” said Ms. Mele.

                Last year alone, Ms. Mele’s annual family fundraiser brought in more than $100,000 for patient care. Their hard work was recognized by the Church; once again, another sister, Mary, was granted two tickets for the Papal mass at Madison Square Garden. When she heard the exciting news, Ms. Mele jumped at the opportunity.

                Ms. Mele does more than fundraising; she is also helping to care for her nephew, Robert, who is living with the disease. She does find it miraculous that her family’s relationship with Huntington’s disease has allowed her to be in the presence of two popes.

                “The thing is,” said Ms. Mele, “I was never one to care about seeing movie stars or other famous people. All I ever wanted was to see the pope in person. The fact that I’m having this opportunity twice is really amazing.”

                When asked how this second experience will help her in her work at Plainview, Ms. Mele replied, “This pope is all about service. I’m in the medical field…this is what we do every day when we come to work. My mother used to say that ‘it’s not about you’….we’re a family dedicated to service. That’s what I think about every day.”

                Her nephew, too, is very excited that his aunt is having this marvelous experience once again.

                 “This pope is all about service, not just ideology. That’s what makes him so special. And, no one deserves it more than my aunt.”

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