Meows from Mudpie!
I'm purring with excitement over my interview today with my new friend Sula. Sula is a two-time cancer survivor who lives at Old Mission San Juan Bautista in California. Her job there is very important as comforter-in-chief for anyone in need of the loving touch that only a cat can provide.
After meeting her I know you're going to be ready to read her book, and Sula has generously offered to send one lucky purr-son in the US a pawtographed copy!!!
Mudpie: Welcome Sula, thank you so much for taking time from your important work to chat with me today. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you came to live at Old Mission San Juan Bautista?
Sula: Just like everyone else, I don't remember anything about my life before about age 2. What I remember from age 2 or so is that I spent some time roaming around City Hall in San Juan Bautista, but I knew that was not my calling. Nothing clicked there for me. So, one day I took a walk around SJB. It is very small, you know. And I stumbled across Old Mission SJB. I knew in an instant that is where I belonged, where I was supposed to be. I think God gives us these intuitions -- a sense of recognition, a feeling of comfort and peace -- to help us find our calling, but we do have to listen well to hear them (or feel/sense them). Not everyone does; sometimes it takes time to trust the instincts that God put inside of us.
What's a typical day like for you there?
I start my day, sitting by the status of St. Francis. He loved animals, you know, and from that I get a sense of belonging, of peace (he loved peace, too), and a renewed conviction to follow the instincts that spring up within me during the day.
Then, I go to daily Mass. It is always at 8:00, except on weekends, which are not "typical days." At the daily Mass, the nuns always pet me and give me either a lap or a chair to sit on. There are parishioners there, too, and they also like to pet me. I try to sit quietly on my chair or a proffered lap during the Mass, and almost always I do very well at that -- as well as some of the parishioners. Often, I can tell that the lap is where I am supposed to be for that Mass. That is how I get to start helping people right at the very beginning of the day.
After Mass, one of the Sisters gives me a little treat. Not a lot. She does not want me to get fat. I don't want to get fat, either, because then I won't be able to squeeze through the cat holes in the church doors.
After Sister's treat, I trot over to the gift shop, where my breakfast awaits. Mary Anzar, who works there, is very good at always have my breakfast ready for me as soon as the gift shop opens.
After that, there is a lot of variety. No two days are alike.
Sometimes I hang around the gift shop and sleep. Cats like to sleep, you know. Bennie or Mary or Cody, though, will wake me up when a visitor wants to meet me. Can you imagine? People come to the gift shop to meet me. One couple came all the way from Georgia. They were visiting California and added SJB to their schedule because they wanted to meet me. I hope they were happy with the meeting. I am always happy to meet new people because I know that God has sent them to me for some reason. I just act like myself, and somehow God uses me acting like myself, a cat, to help them. It is amazing how that works.
Children come, too. California has an educational requirement that all school children in fourth grade have to visit one of the missions and do a study about it. Our mission is very popular, and I am popular with the children. I try to help them in some way with their projects -- by following them around, posing with them, listening as one of the staff explains the role of mission cats, and by letting them pet me. I like being part of their projects, and I like children.
When I am not busy educating the children, I slip into the quadrangle that is the center of the mission -- roses and cacti, trees and stones, artifacts and statues -- there are so many places to wander, play, and wonder.
During the day the docents bring around groups. They may point me out as I play in the flower gardens, or on the Native American pottery, or in the gazebo. Play is an important part of staying healthy and happy, you know.
I think God chooses everyone for important work. But not everyone listens and follows. I did, and I do.
You're a two time cancer survivor. That must have been so scary. What was that time like for you and how did you get through it?
That was really scary. When something "big" happens to you that you have no control over, it is scary. When you have to rely on others for your very life, it is scary. I got through it because I learned the importance of letting others help me -- the vet, the Smiths who offered me their home so I would have a controlled environment for getting better after my surgeries, the parishioners who paid for it all. I think friends are God's hands on earth, and I have so many friends that I know God was taking very special care of me during these difficult times. That knowledge got me through the scary stuff.
Have you ever had people say mean things to you because of your ears? (By the way, you are such a beautiful kitty!)
Thank you, Mudpie, for saying that I am beautiful. I guess by asking the question you have figured out that people can say some pretty cruel things. The parishioners are all kind to me, but those who are just passing through -- and we do get a lot of guests here -- often ask about my ears, and I can tell that some folks think I am ugly because of that. I think that is why Loryn, who wrote her story in my book, loves me and relates so well to me. She, too, is a cancer survivor, and cancer left her, too, scarred. Who we are, though, are more than our scars. I know that, and she knows that. In some ways, cancer was kind to us; it taught us a lot of things like this, things that are the most important in the Kingdom of God and therefore that we don't have to worry about in the World of Mankind.
One part of your book that made us chuckle was when you showed the caution sign where the Sisters drive their scooters. Have you had any, um, close calls from bad drivers?
Fortunately, no. I am almost never in the places where people drive. I am in the church or chapel, gift shop, or garden. Those are all safe places.
Cats have always been a part of the Missions. That was one of the first things that priests asked for. In the old days, there were a lot of mice, so they needed the cats. Those cats, my predecessors, then, had a different calling than I have. Today there are no mice, just people who need me to spend time with them. I know of two other Mission cats among the 21 Missions, but I have not met them. Maybe there are more. After all, cats were among the very first worshippers to appear at the Missions -- all the Missions.
This question is a toughie, and I know it's impossible to answer because there are some things we just aren't meant to know in this life. The cat that came before me in Mommy's life, Truffles, passed away suddenly last summer to a painful blood clot at only 4 years old. Mommy is still struggling with the loss and is angry that Truffles had such a short, tragic life. Why do you think such horrible things happen to good kitties (and people) and how can I comfort Mommy when she's so sad?
I am sorry to hear about Truffles. You are right. We don't know. There are many reasons, though, why God lets bad things happen to good people: to help us become better people because somehow brokenness creates greater humility, to use suffering to bring us closer to Him, to help us understand (especially in the case of death) that we all have only a short time on this planet but our life here is only phase and there is more to come -- and Truffles already knows what that is while we are still waiting to find out, to help us mature in our faith, to help us gain empathy for others. I could go on and on. So many reasons. The most compelling one for me, though, is the awesome thought that God trusts me to turn to Him during these times; He trusts me not to use these bad things to condemn Him but to bring me closer to Him. Someone once said (I don't remember who because I am not very good at reading) that in our sorrow and suffering God stoops down and suffers with us -- and that builds a bond between us. Well, at least, that is the way it is for me, and I am grateful that God trusts me in this way. Maybe that will comfort your mommy. Maybe, just crawling into her lap and sitting there patiently, bonding with her, will comfort her, too.
Lastly, where can people buy your book and what are the funds being used for?
People who live near San Juan Bautista can get my book at Old Mission SJB gift shop or at the St Francis Retreat Center gift shop. Others can order it on line from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or whatever their favorite online bookstore is (anywhere in the world). They can also go into their local bookstore and, if the bookstore does not have my book, they can ask the bookstore to order it. It is available to bookstores -- and to libraries. Librarians can order it, too.
The funds are being used to help save my home, Old Mission SJB. It is located on the intersection of three earthquake faults. Twice it has fallen down. Now the State of California says it is unsafe and must be retrofitted (that will cost $14 million -- yikes!); the seismologists says there is a big earthquake coming some time though they don't know when, and our beautiful but old Mission won't be able to survive it if we don't retrofit it. I am grateful for all the people who buy a book because they are helping to save my beautiful home.
A cat with a divine mission, Sula has an uncanny ability to sense which parishioners at Old Mission San Juan Bautista (California) need her attention at any given Mass. But...is it really uncanny, or does St. Francis give Sula tasks during her daily conversations with him? Or is she led by God? Sula has developed a special bond with cancer survivors like herself. The bond between her and the Old Mission parishioners saw her through two bouts of cancer, flooding her with gifts: money for surgery, a home for recovery, prayers, and love. In these pages, you will find charming, endearing, and inspiring stories, shared by parishioners and told from the point of view of a lovable and amazingly insightful cat. Once you open this book, you will not close it!
Once you meet Sula through the pages of this book you won't soon forget her. While it's Sula's "meowmoir" it's also the story of those whose lives she's impacted and an inside look at California's Spanish missions. Whether you're a religious person or not the history is fascinating and the connection she has with the people she's drawn to is undeniable. I've always said if there is such a thing as angels on earth, they come in the form of fur and four legs, at least I know that's how they've always presented themselves in my own life. Sula is further proof of what I've suspected all along.
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