Service characterizes faith of 2016 Regina Matrum
The Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Regina Matrum Award was the last honor Gail Daigle thought she would ever receive.
The numbers, Daigle said, just didn’t add up.
“I remember telling (my husband) Roy 10 or 15 years ago, ‘This is one award I’ll never get,’ because you had to have a large family. We have one surviving daughter,” said Daigle, a 79-year-old parishioner of St. Clement of Rome.
Yet on May 9, an “overwhelmed” Daigle will be recognized as this year’s Regina Matrum recipient at a 7 p.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond at St. Clement of Rome Church. The annual award, presented by the Council of Catholic School Cooperative Clubs, honors outstanding role models of Catholic motherhood.
Weathered multiple losses
Daigle’s courageous and faith-filled journey proves that extraordinary mothers guide families of every size and set of challenges.
Between 1957 and 1967, Daigle suffered two miscarriages and lost four children (Roy, Bradley, Tommy and Mary Anne) in very early infancy to a genetic condition called Aicardi Syndrome, in which the corpus callosum – the band of nerve fibers that joins the two hemispheres of the brain – fails to develop.
Daigle gave birth to two healthy children, but suffered another excruciating loss when her son, David, died of complications from epilepsy at age 33.
The Daigles’ sole surviving child, Susan Scotton, 59, is a registered nurse.
“When people ask how many children I have I say, ‘One on earth and seven in heaven,’” said Daigle, recalling how she wasn’t allowed to hold – and in some cases even see – the babies she lost.
“In those days, you just swept your feelings under the rug. You didn’t even grieve – there was no such thing as grief workshops. You just handled it the best way you could,” she said. “Having Susan and David got me through (multiple bereavements), and I thank God for her health. She is the best daughter anybody could ever want to have!”
Although Daigle had every reason to let bitterness and loss define her life, she accepted her crosses with grace and transformed her suffering into loving action.
From 1978 to 1981, she and Roy answered a Catholic Charities appeal for foster parents, caring for a total of 10 young children until they could be adopted into permanent homes.
“It was one of the most joyful experiences of my life,” Daigle said. “All we did was hold them and love them. I saw this as God giving me my babies back to hold and to love, like a closure.”
Pro-life work bore much fruit
The Daigles have been ardent supporters of the Right to Life movement since the 1973 passage of the Roe vs. Wade court case legalizing abortion, faithfully participating in national and state marches in defense of the unborn, 40 Days for Life and sidewalk prayer and silent presence outside abortion clinics.
The couple’s pro-life work blessed the family in a special way when their daughter Susan, who lost two babies of her own to Aicardi syndrome, adopted a baby boy in 1993. The child’s 17-year-old birth mother was scheduled to terminate her pregnancy in an Indiana abortion clinic, but had a change of heart after speaking with a sidewalk counselor.
“She was on the table with her feet in the stirrups,” Daigle said. “She left the clinic and went to a lawyer to put the baby up for adoption.”
That baby, David James Scotton, now 22, went on to become president of his pro-life club at Jesuit High and a speaker at pro-life rallies around the country.
Scotton, who will attend LSU Law School in the fall with a long-term goal of specializing in adoption law, is the subject of the Louisiana Right to Life documentary “I Lived on Parker Avenue,” a titular nod to the location of the abortion clinic his birth mother fled.
Dedicated parish volunteer
Gail and Roy, who met each other as children in St. Rose of Lima Parish, married in 1956, spending their first eight years of married life in DeRidder, Louisiana, for Roy’s Army training, and Venice, for Roy’s career in petroleum engineering.
In 1965, the couple relocated to Metairie and became founding parishioners of St. Clement of Rome. Gail has enthusiastically volunteered in nearly every ministry ever since, including the pastoral council, Ladies’ Altar Society, the lay support committee for transitional deacons, scouting, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, eucharistic adoration and as a high school teacher in the parish school of religion.
She and Roy received the Order of St. Louis Medallion from St. Clement Parish in 1981.
Witnesses to marriage
The Daigles have shared their parental struggles with dozens of couples at Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter and other marriage enrichment programs.
“We have gained as much from marriage ministry as we have given,” Daigle said. “Sometimes, when we knew a couple was coming to our house (to share their marital journey), Roy and I would have to sit down and get our relationship right, so we could face them.”
Daigle’s service also is animated by a special love of the elderly and infirmed. She volunteered for the Jefferson Council on Aging-sponsored Meals on Wheels program from 1968-80, and for the last 20 years she and Roy have volunteered for their parish’s 150-member service organization – the St. Clement’s Guild – as chairs of the Homebound Committee, taking seniors to their medical appointments and on other errands.
Gail Daigle also practices her love for the elderly at East Jefferson Hospital, where she has volunteered since 1983, visiting patients in the hospital’s Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, the medical/surgical floor and as a founding volunteer for EJ’s Palliative Care program, which assists critically ill patients and their families with their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Holds hands with the dying
In 2014, Daigle helped the hospital launch a new initiative called “No One Dies Alone,” in which volunteers remain at the side of terminally ill patients who have no family members to be with them.
“All of the patients I have been with have been in a coma,” Daigle said. “I’ll talk to them; I’ll read to them; and I don’t know what religion they are, but I pray, sometimes the rosary, out loud.”
A few months ago, at the conclusion of a six-hour vigil at the bedside of a comatose patient, Daigle blessed the woman and communicated her usual parting message: “It’s OK to go.”
“Ten seconds after I left the room she died. I was so upset! I wanted to be with her,” said Daigle, noting that her ministry with the dying is fortified by her personal experiences with loss. She said she also is bolstered by the prayer sharing she and Roy, her husband of 60 years, do each and every morning at breakfast.
“I’m not afraid of death,” Daigle said. “I know death is not final, so it doesn’t scare me. I feel at ease. I feel comfortable.”