Mary Ann Fezzuoglio met The Salvation Army in the simplest of ways: Barbara McLean, a soldier (member) of an Army church in Norridge, Ill., said hello to her in an apartment hallway. After a few more friendly conversations, Barbara invited Mary Ann to visit a women's group called Home League and then a Sunday morning worship service.
It wasn't long before Mary Ann accepted Jesus as her Savior. She quickly became known for an effervescent personality and her testimony of conquering cancer through the strength of God. The congregation of Norridge rejoiced with her over her healing.
In discipleship class, I remember well the times that we laughed together and cried a little in prayer as Mary Ann expressed concern for her family members, especially the sister she called "Pudge," who didn't know the Lord.
When Mary Ann's cancer returned, her faith remained strong and she continued to trust in her Savior. Her discipleship "accountability log" lists daily Bible verses and what they meant to her. On it was James 1:2-3, which talks about considering trials as "pure joy ... because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." Her comment was, "The book of James has been a real comfort to me in my illness. It keeps me going to persevere and develop my faith and trust in God."
Three and a half months after she wrote this, it was evident that the end was near. We received a call one day from the family letting us know that Mary Ann wasn't expected to make it through the week. Immediately the band and songsters (choir) of the corps (church) decided they would go to her home the next day to play and sing for this woman who had such an impact on us all.
However, when my wife, Janet, and I rushed over to see her, we could see that tomorrow would be too late. We joined the family circle around her bed. Pudge said, "You know, one thing Mary Ann regretted was that she never became a soldier of The Salvation Army."
Quickly, we went to get a copy of the Articles of War (the Army's membership covenant) and a small Salvation Army flag to drape on the dresser by her head. With her family standing close, we enrolled Mary Ann Fezzuoglio as a soldier of the Norridge Citadel Corps. Some family members didn't fully understand the ceremony, but everyone joined us in The Salvation Army salute (right index finger pointing one way to God) to this brave lady. And then Pudge asked, "How long before she can wear a uniform?"
The next morning Mary Ann went to be with her Savior, and we ensured that she would be buried in a brand-new soldier's uniform. As her large Italian family came to pay their respects, many asked about the uniform and about the Articles of War placed with her in the casket.
The Army's full band and songster "brigade" helped us celebrate this amazing woman who had touched us all. The chapel rang with the Salvation Army hymn "And Can It Be?" and William Booth's "O Boundless Salvation," known as "the Founder's song." We left with the words of the chorus "Total Praise" ringing in our ears. The family was overwhelmed at how joyful a Salvation Army "promotion to Glory" can be.
The next Sunday, Pudge, along with her husband and daughter, Lisa, and her family, came to worship with us. At the end of the service, Pudge and Lisa knelt at the altar, with soldiers gathered around them, and found the same Savior that Mary Ann had found. Although she didn't live to see that moment, Mary Ann's prayers had been answered.
Today Pudge and Lisa and her family continue to worship with us. Barbara McLean, who offered that first hello to Mary Ann, is discipling them.
The author, Major Doug Rowland, is co-pastor, along with his wife, Major Janet Rowland, of the Norridge Citadel Corps.