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Nun forgoing cancer treatment finds her strength in prayer


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Nun forgoing cancer treatment finds her strength in prayer


The Wichita Eagle

Dave Williams/The Wichita Eagle

Sister Julius Marie Burger sits in the chapel at Sisters of St. Joseph Mount St. Mary Convent. Burger was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005 and has shunned treatment. She has instead relied on her willingness to accept God’s will and prayer to deal with her illness. The words in the prayer for Sister Julius Marie Burger from her sibling were quiet, almost a whisper. "Peace," Sister Ann Catherine Burger told her sister, both of the Congregation of St. Joseph religious order. "God's will be done."

Peace. God's will.

For Sister Julius Marie Burger, the words have taken on more significance in a time of uncertainty.

Sister Julius Marie, 81, has inoperable cancer. When she was diagnosed, she was given six months to one year to live. That was October 2005.

She shunned treatment. She and others believe it's the power of prayer that has helped her defy the odds.

She was at peace in 2005. Prepared to accept God's will.

"I thought if this is what God wants for me, this is fine," Sister Julius Marie recalled. "I mean, I can't change it, so why worry about it. Live with what you have, and rely on God's assistance."

So she prayed. And others prayed for her.

Prayer, she knows, is powerful.

A miracle?

The word is not used lightly among devout people of faith.

"I haven't looked upon it as a miracle myself," she said. "But I think that I'm where I am, this has to be close to it."

Her oncologist, Dennis Moore Jr. of the Cancer Center of Kansas, believes that her prayer is a factor in her "doing as well as she is" with "the advanced nature of the disease.

"Her being alive and in as good of shape as she is, it's incredible," he said.

"Who's to say this is not a miracle?"

'A trust in God'

Sister Julius Marie said she had gone to the doctor for a routine health check in 2005 when an X-ray revealed "something strange" in her lung.

Doctors were to perform an operation, but discovered the lung cancer.

That was something of a mystery to Sister Julius Marie. She has never smoked.

There are cases in which lung cancer can develop in nonsmokers or people who are not significantly exposed to secondhand smoke, Moore said.

Sister Julius Marie said she was told the cancer was inoperable.

"I think the main thing was that it appeared to be involving other areas of the chest cavity," Moore said.

And with it spreading to those other areas, the cancer "would not be cured even with an aggressive form of surgery," he said.

Sister Julius Marie did not want chemotherapy.

That's a decision that Moore respected, given her tremendous faith and attitude, he said.

"She has a very deep inner peace and a trust in God," he said. "And it shows."

At the same time, Moore stressed that chemotherapy is a successful treatment for many cancer patients.

In her case, "I doubt that she would gain that much with chemotherapy or gain much from aggressive medical treatment at this point," he said.

'I will be ready'

Sister Julius Marie's family members are confident that the prayer has made a difference.

"I'm sure you know prayer helps and of course, we don't know how much it helps," said Sister Ann Catherine Burger.

"But she was supposed to have only how long to live? It's prayer. And she has a lot of will power herself, of course. But we hope the prayer is working."

When Sister Julius Marie gathers with her family Tuesday, she will reflect on what she calls "the great gift that Christmas is to us."

"We cannot do anything that would make us really worthy of it," she said. "That's why Jesus came -- he came to open the way for us, he came to give us the new life. To me, this is the greatest gift that one could have."

She does not dwell on her illness, nor worry about what's ahead.

"Each day, I pray to God that I will be ready," she said. "And I don't think of death, I think of the new life that is to come, and I don't know what that is, of course. But I pray that I will be ready. And I can only be ready if Jesus is there to help me."

A family of faith

Come Christmas Day, Sister Julius Marie and most of her 10 siblings will gather, as they do each year on this day.

The Burgers are a close family. Although they live throughout the Midwest, they get together twice a year -- at Christmas and during the summer for a family vacation.

The Burger family also is a family of tremendous faith.

The prayer that her sister, Sister Ann Catherine, said for her came during a weekly prayer service that was organized by their brother, Richard. It is held in Sister Julius Marie's apartment building.

Her parents, Julius Anthony and Mary Elizabeth Burger, would not let the children play until they prayed the Rosary as a family in their Kansas City, Kan., home.

Of the 14 Burger children -- three are now deceased -- six of the seven daughters and four of the seven sons entered religious life.

Sister Julius Marie, the fourth-oldest child, followed the path of an older sister and entered the Sisters of St. Joseph, now known as the Congregation of St. Joseph.

As a nun in the religious order, she was an educator for 11 years in Florence and Parsons.

After that, she spent about 45 years in Japan with her congregation, serving as formation director, regional superior and president of the board of directors of the congregation's hospital and senior home. She returned to Kansas in 1996, working in customer relations at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Joseph Campus for about five years.

Today, she is one of two people in her apartment building who are responsible for "night duty." Her duties include being on call for anyone who may need assistance with spiritual or other needs.

She also cooks for and helps her brother, Richard, who has Huntington's disease and who lives in the same building.

'Thy will be done'

During one of the weekly prayer services, the seven people attending prayed quietly and privately.

After about 10 minutes, they ended the service by praying aloud together the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done...

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That's such a neat story.

I wonder why it is that there are some people that have such exceptionally strong faith, and then there are those of us (me), that seem to question everything, have "set-backs" in believing that a miracle can still happen, and just generally make things harder on themselves?

I think I probably give the Lord a major headache most of the time...... :oops:

Thanks for sharing that, Randy.

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I think that is a remarkable story.

Of course, it doesn't pretend to imply that people who don't fare as well aren't faithful people, or that they don't pray enough. Sister is comfortable with accccepting "God's will," which at this point is that she continues on. Her faith, and the support of her family and community, makes this acceptance easier for her. She's an inspiration.


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