Blessing of Generosity
Her name was Anna Kurzwell and I had never heard of her. In fact it would have been virtually impossible for me to hear about her if I did not regularly read the National Catholic Reporter. I like reading periodicals like this in order to stay somewhat informed on the world’s news. I don’t read all the articles, but apparently my eyes glance over most of the titles. I was grabbed by this title: “Kansas City teacher astonishes with a $2 million gift to the Jesuits.” “Those lucky rascals,” I thought!
I like the Jesuits and I respect them. Although I am not Catholic and never went to a Catholic school, I have had a couple Jesuits as faculty. They were smart and well trained. In fact our current Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The Jesuits’ official title is the Society of Jesus. If you see a SJ after a priest’s name, that means he is a Jesuit. They were founded in the sixteenth century by Ignatius of Loyola. They are distinctive in that they owe obedience to the Pope. So they are free from many of the local constraints that often hamper other Catholic leaders.
But I had never heard of Anna Kurzwell. And why would I? She was a little known teacher outside of Kansas City. Not in a million years would anyone have expected that she would be a millionaire. She was 101 when she died. She was the youngest of eight children. Early in her life she had spent some time in a convent. She had spent one summer working in a leper colony in New Guinea. In her later years she traveled to other parts of the globe.
As a teacher, she had never earned more than $20,000. She volunteered for a shelter and helped facilitate other worthwhile endeavors. I come away with a sense that Anna Kurzwell was a remarkable woman, but also a remarkably unremarkable woman. She ended life by living on a $1,000 monthly pension. No one had a clue about her wealth. And I am sure she offered no clues.
The writers of the article, Sally Morrow and David Gibson, are no doubt correct when they say, “the Catholic faith was the golden thread that ran through her life.” I am sure this is true. I have known Quakers about whom the same thing can be said. I am sure she would have told us that her faith and her church were crucial to her life. In fact, it would be impossible to understand her life apart from faith and the church. Doubtlessly, she was committed to God and committed to sharing what God had provided her.
In most ways it does not matter that the Jesuits were the beneficiaries of the largesse. It could have been any worthy group. And that is because the story is about Anna Kurzwell, not the Jesuits. It is the story of commitment, a life of service rooted in her dedication, and a generosity of spirit. Her whole life was a life of giving. She gave to countless 4 and 5th grade students throughout her years. I suspect she gave more than the required hours to teach.
I am now painting the picture I have of her. I suspect it is, in part, accurate and likely bigger than life, too. I would like to think her financial generosity to the Jesuits is simply one more thing---and the last thing---that fit a pattern of her life’s service. No one knew she had this kind of wealth. But thinking about it should cause us to get over our surprise.
No one who commits, even for a short time, to life in a convent is going to become a spendthrift when she leaves. And she left the convent to take care of a sick and dying mother. She wanted the simple life because that was the life Jesus lived. She lived according to need and experienced the freedom that folks with a commitment to simplicity feel. She was not a slave to her passions. She was free---free to give generously. And she did it in a way that caused no fanfare---at least for her!
I am glad that I did not need to know her personally to be inspired by her story. Stories inspire. To be inspired by Anna Kurzwell does not mean I have to do exactly as she did. I don’t have her wealth. But I can be rich in the Spirit as she was. Because I live, I still have a chance to give---to give of myself and my gifts. Most of my gifts are not monetary. And I suspect, her gifts of love, service and encouragement were worth more than $2 million. That just happened to be her financial worth.
Her spiritual worth was significantly more. Fortunately, it cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I do suspect she got her reward. I rather doubt she got too many awards or, maybe, even thank yous. But I know that the kind of generosity she bestowed brings its own blessing. I am confident she was a very blessed woman. I hope she knew it.
Generosity---especially when it is freely given without strings attached---is always a blessing. There is no hidden agenda; there is no source of pride. It is clean. And it is always a blessing. The lesson for us is to learn this kind of generosity. Be generous in a pure and detached way. And blessing will surely come your way---the blessing of generosity.