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A Hidden Saint

August 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Hidden Saint

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The King of the Golden City (Week 2 of 5)

There was certainly a great deal in her that he could not love. He saw that she was willful and changeable, and that she loved him more for the presents he gave her, and for those he promised her, than for himself. But he saw, too, something which no one else could see, something beautiful and lovable that she would become if she would fight against the ugly things he could not love. He loved what she would be one day when her training was finished, and so he had patience with her and put up with her trying ways. – The King of the Golden City (Chapter 3, Paragraph 1)

The greatest piece of parental wisdom I’ve ever heard came from my mother-in-law. Of course, she didn’t offer the advice. She’s not like that.  But knowing what an amazing mother she is, I pressed her once. Finally, she said, “I guess we tried to make a lot of the good, and overlooked the bad whenever possible.”  

Sounds a little like the king, doesn’t it?

Well, as you cozy up with this story, experiencing the king's love for Dilecta, his compassionate nature and gentle demeanor, just know that you would feel that same warmth if you sat down for a cup of coffee with my mother-in-law, Hilaria Burbach.

Hilaria (or Dickie, as she is known to friends and family) is what I would call a “hidden” saint. She is humble, kind and devoted. And the lengths to which her patience and loving guidance have reached are impossible to discern.

Let me try to explain.

At the heart of every human being, from the youngest babe to the most aged invalid, is a desire to love and to be loved. To be touched by a tender hand, to hear a gentle, affirming voice, to see a warm smile and to know the comforting arms of appreciation and acceptance. And yet, somehow as we stumble along, searching for love, we make mistakes. Mistakes that cause us to feel misunderstood. Unloved. Sometimes unwanted. Even among those whom we love the most.

But with God, things are different. For one, we know that He truly sees us for who we are. He sees our selfish nature, our grumpiness, suffers for all our sinfulness, and yet, He loves us anyway. He sees what we can become. And His selfless, sacrificial love inspires us to try harder to “become” what He sees.

Every once in a while, God, in his infinite compassion and wisdom, places a very special person in the world to inspire us with a tangible example of this unconditional and selfless love.  Think of the Bishop in Les Miserables.  Or, if you knew her, you would just as easily call to mind Dickie Burbach.

85 years ago today, on August 4, 1929, God blessed the world with this amazing soul. He chose for her a small, country town where she could grow in holiness and raise her family, no doubt intending to demonstrate the power of His love to spread beyond earthly limits.

I first met Dickie 22 years ago, shortly after I began dating her son.

I’m ashamed to admit that when we met, I was ambivalent about Dickie’s life experience. Sure, I was impressed that she and her husband had raised nine children on a dairy farm in the middle nowhere (for me nowhere was “anywhere” outside of a big city). But it saddened me that she'd lacked the opportunities of women from my generation, having known little outside of her experience as a housewife and mother (turns out she taught in a one-room schoolhouse for several years, but I didn't learn that until later).  Regardless, I felt she’d missed out on the “important” things in life – career opportunities, monetary incentives, smaller families, and frankly, less “thankless” work.

Little did I know then, but about three years after meeting my mother-in-law, I would experience one of those rare but precious gifts that comes along maybe once in a lifetime. That gift was a clear glimpse into the heart of what makes for a meaningful life.

At the time, we were living in the fast lane. Newly married, my husband and I had big plans. His career was in full swing and I had recently received an amazing job opportunity right out of graduate school as the youngest marketing manager for a new large-business division in a giant telecom company in Denver. Great things were happening for us! We had a brand new car and had recently begun building our first house – a 2800 square foot beauty with a two-story entry and a wall of floor to ceiling arched windows looking out over a picturesque back yard. Only a couple of weeks before, we’d spent a romantic evening imagining what our future would hold as we sat with a picnic blanket and a bottle of champaign on the floor of the framed-in two-story library of our new home.

But on the evening of my 180-degree paradigm-shift, the mountains were far behind us. We’d just driven nine hours to the small town of Hartington, NE to celebrate my in-laws’ 40th wedding anniversary, and we were sitting beneath a simple park pavilion near the center of town, two miles from the dairy farm where my husband and his eight siblings were raised.

It was a happy occasion. Friends and family had traveled from far and wide to share in the festivities.  We enjoyed a little German beer, a lot of laughter and chatted away as we listened to the giggles of grandkids who relished in all the treats and playmates to be found on such an occasion. As I looked around, I was comforted by vats of fried chicken, gallons of potato salad and stacks of well-stocked coolers which served as additional seating for the party.

Well into the evening, one of my brothers-in-law stepped onto a picnic table to offer a toast. He attributed his faith, his own family and his business success to the stalwart example shared by his parents, particularly his mother, who, according to him, never failed to serve her children and those around her, morning, noon and night.

One by one, completely unrehearsed, each of their nine children stood up to share stories about their parents. The happy couple sat all a-blush and holding hands as they listened to what their children had to say.

But while they were all making merry in The Land of Fond Memories, I was having a groundbreaking moment.  A life-changing epiphany, if you will.

Looking around at all the people touched by this couple, I began to recognize that I had been building my life on the sand of materialism; on the accumulation of things rather than on relationships. On being served rather than on service. Were I to become a world-famous lawyer, writer, marketer – any of the careers I’d imagined for myself – I would never be as accomplished as my mother-in-law, who had truly affected the world with her loving hand.

My life's trajectory was forever changed that night.

Shortly after that weekend, my husband and I actually backed out from constructing our first house and lost the deposit, deciding for the sake of our future family that we did not want the weight of a “two-income” mortgage hanging over our heads.  Further, we decided to allow God to determine how many children we should have and when, giving Him permission to serve as the “head” of our household.  From that moment, we also made a conscious decision to follow my husband’s career over mine, for I knew that when I had my first child, I wanted to shower him daily with all the love I had witnessed in my mother-in-law.

It’s impossible to truly relate the soul of a person in 1,000 words or less. One is left with a lot of overused descriptives like kind, generous, loving and good – words virtually devoid of meaning because they are so overused and relate little of value about a person.

But my mother-in-law is all these things and more:

1.  Perhaps I could tally up all the lives she's directly affected.  Within her family alone, Dickie has directly affected the lives of 63 souls, when you take into account her husband, nine children, their nine spouses, 36 grandchildren and, to date, eight great-grandchildren.  Take into account friends, acquaintances and even strangers who have encountered the warmth of her smile, and her influence becomes exponential.

2. I could tell you about the impact that Dickie has had on the hundreds of people she's reached out to touch.  Case in point: For years, she exchanged letters with a wayward young man who found himself in prison.  In gratitude for the love she demonstrated for him, that man made for her a beautiful floral picture surrounding a handwritten poem.  The artwork was framed and is displayed in her kitchen to this day.

3.  I could share stories I've heard about countless relatives from the East coast were inexpressibly affected by Dickie's hospitality when they visited the “family farm.”  She has never failed to welcome guests with open arms and an open door, keeping a hot meal ready on the stove.

4.  I could talk about the special care she took of her brother who was mentally handicapped.  Throughout my husband's childhood and until his uncle passed away early in our marriage, the family made a special effort to drive over two hours to visit him or bring him home for holidays, special occasions or just for a visit.  I have heard many stories about Sunday picnics with Uncle Paul.

5.  Perhaps it would help if I talked about Dickie's strong faith.  Along with her husband of more than 50 years, Dickie spent every Monday night from 10-11pm in a Holy Hour that had been observed by Marlen's father before him.  Stories abound of their devout prayer life and the example of their Faith.

6.  Dickie is famous for her baking as well as for her hospitality.  My sister-in-law tells of a homemade hot and cold water cake recipe, which took three minutes to mix and put into the oven.  They pulled out ingredients whenever an unannounced guest pulled into their driveway – in less than 30 minutes, they could graciously offer a fresh slice of cake.  I, personally, have never been to her house when there was not an entire countertop full of fresh homemade baked goods inviting me to nibble.

I could go on and on and on.  As it stands, this is by far my longest post to date.  Truth be told, there is not enough paper in the world to share all the stories of all the lives that have been touched by Dickie Burbach.  Suffice it to say that I am privileged to know her, and absolutely blessed to call her my mother.


Reading Assignment:

Chapters 5-9

Discussion Questions:

1. Is there someone in your life you'd like to honor for their influence on your spiritual growth?  Please share.

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week.
Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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