Noe Valley Voice December-January 2003

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

It was 1 a.m. on Oct. 19. Sister Thomas More, a teacher at the Missionaries of Charity's convent on 29th Street, was joined for a picnic inside St. Paul's School by close to 50 other nuns and novices in white saris.

The occasion? It was 10 a.m. at the Vatican, and Mother Teresa's 21/2-hour beatification ceremony was being broadcast live on TV. The sisters watched in rapt attention as 300,000 people packed into St. Peter's Square in Rome to see Pope John Paul II seal the event. Later, the Noe Valley nuns attended a special mass in Mother Teresa's honor at St. Paul's Church.

Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 and became known around the globe for her devotion to the world's poor, died in 1997 at the age of 87. Her Noe Valley novitiate was established in 1982.

Beatification is a major step on the road to sainthood in the Catholic Church, and sainthood requires a special holiness. "God confirms holiness by extraordinary acts done through a human person. That's what we call a miracle," says More. "In Mother's case, there was a lady in West Bengal, India, north of Calcutta, who was very sick. She had TB, and she also had an ovarian tumor. Her TB was treated with medicine, but the tumor was healed through the intercession of Mother Teresa on the first anniversary of Mother's death. The sisters put a medal that had been touched to Mother's tomb on the woman's very swollen abdomen. Then they prayed together asking for a healing through Mother, and that night the tumor disappeared. She woke up with a flat stomach."

The sisters' word was not enough to convince the church that a miracle had occurred. "When you have an event like that, you then go through all the doctors to see if there wasn't a natural cause for the healing. This took place in Calcutta, India. After it was cleared by them, it was submitted to the Vatican. They checked everything all over again, thoroughly. Doctors who were not directly involved checked all the medical records and test results, and specialists were called in. Their judgment was that this was indeed a miracle. So, because of the examination of Mother's life, and that miracle, she was cleared for beatification," More explains.

For Mother Teresa to be canonized as a saint, however, a second miracle will need to be attributed to her. Since Mother Teresa is well-known around the world, it is likely this will happen within a few years. With people of less renown, the process can take centuries. Junipero Serra was beatified in the 1980s, but has not yet been canonized, More points out. "He worked and died here a long time ago. There are a limited number of people who pray to him. It might take quite a while for him to be canonized," More notes.

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It took quite a while for Kevin Duffy and Mary Teahan-Duffy's little miracle to be conceived, and that was only after they called in a fertility specialist. The couple shared their story in this column in October, recounting how they thought they were going to lose the baby, but then a great blue heron alighted on their 23rd Street fence, keeping them company for five minutes before it flew up into the trees. They took the heron to be a good luck sign--one had also visited them the day they got engaged in Golden Gate Park--and the pregnancy turned out to be viable.

Their son, Shane Patrick Duffy, arrived four weeks early on Nov. 12, 2003, at California Pacific Medical Center, and his proud parents say he is just a "perfect little guy."

Mary says the 23 hours of labor were well worth it. "When he finally came out, we were all amazed at how cute he was, and happy there were no complications. He wasn't considered a premie because of his weight, 6 pounds, 13 ounces," she says.

On first blush, Shane has his mother's eyes and his dad's mouth and chin, and is a dream to care for. "He sleeps for four-hour stretches, so we're getting enough sleep. He fusses a little bit, but he has yet to cry, so we're all just amazed. He's one of those angel babies," Mom observes.

Nine days after his birth, the family had already taken four rolls of film, plus plenty of video footage. "It's hard to put this experience into words. You love your husband, you love your parents, and you love your siblings, but I've never felt anything like this before. It's so overpowering," Mary says.

For Kevin, the word precious about sums up the experience. "He's a great eater and sleeper, pretty much like his old man. He's taking after that side of the family, no doubt about it. I'm just looking forward to introducing him to the community and the good people in the neighborhood. I'm sure he's going to fit right in and have a great childhood in Noe Valley," he says.

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Another local parent with a different sort of news is Candy Shue. Her essay "How It Happens" was published in November in an anthology titled My Heart's First Steps: Writings That Celebrate the Gifts of Parenthood, edited by Jennifer Graf Groneberg. (Shue also won this paper's fiction-writing contest back in August 1996, with her story "Playgrounds.")

"I saw a call for submissions for essays on parenting about four years ago, and I just happened to have this piece I had written about my daughter Allie when she was about 5 months old," recalls Shue.

The book, which is available at Cover to Cover Booksellers, contains contributions from parents living in the United States, Mexico, Italy, Israel, and Japan. The essays run the emotional gamut, from the elation of pregnancy to the despair of postpartum blues, Shue says. One author describes the birth of a second child; another writes about the things children teach their parents as they grow more independent. Yet another reflects upon the strengths of his daughter as she gives birth in her own home.

Shue hasn't set up any book signings yet--she has been busy in November caring for her two daughters--Allie, now 8 years old, and Gillian, who just turned 3--while also participating in National Novel Writing Month. "I've committed to writing 50,000 words, and I'm up to 36,000, so I think I can make it," she says.

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Another creative denizen is satirist Charlie Varon. His latest audio CD, Visiting Professor of Pessimism, was recorded live at Brava Theater in April and was officially released in November. It features a parody of BBC news that skewers Bush, Blair, and Rumsfeld; a monologue about marching in a San Francisco peace march; and a thought-provoking story about American Jews and Israel.

The week of Veterans Day, the window display at Cover to Cover was peppered with Varon's CD, showing him in polka dot boxers among a row of men in military uniform.

Varon says it was an "accidental CD" because it stemmed from a benefit performance he did for his synagogue, Or Shalom. "I had not planned to write new material for that show, but then our government decided to invade this country in the Middle East called Iraq. So my collaborator, David Ford, and I wrote a lot of material--satire and monologues--in the week before the show just dealing with this crazy invasion," Varon recalls.

Later, Varon sent some of the new pieces to KPFA. The response by listeners was so positive that KPFA asked if it could have a CD of the show to hand out during its upcoming fundraising marathon. Thus the CD was born, co-produced by Varon and the Marsh on Valencia Street. More details about this and Varon's other work is at

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And now for an accidental departure. Roberta Greifer, branch manager of the Noe Valley­Sally Brunn Library since 1987, hasn't been on the job since Sept. 9. Unfortunately, due to a repetitive stress injury in both of her hands, she will not be returning to our library.

"It's really hard for me to deal with automation because I have trouble clicking the mouse. Even a year ago I was managing because we were on a different system and you could still do a lot of keyboarding, but now it's become very computerized, and it involves more clicking. My hands were really hurting me," Greifer explains from the comfort of her Richmond District home. The good news is that her hands are doing much better since she stopped work.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Greifer first worked at our local library in the mid-70s. Later she worked as a floater, filling in for librarians at branches throughout the city. Subsequent assignments included the science documents at the Main Library, the Sunset and Marina branches, and finally back to Noe Valley.

"I've always felt an affinity for the Noe Valley branch. It is in a community where people really enjoy literature and reading. It also has a strong children's space. Even though I'm not a children's librarian, I enjoy the family atmosphere," Greifer says.

"When I first started as a librarian in the 1970s, there were a lot of young patrons in their 20s and 30s who were renting. We did weekly programs that drew tremendous crowds. The first program I did was live belly-dancing, and people were sitting on the bookshelves. There must have been about 200 people. It was a magical time, a reflection not just of Noe Valley, but of all San Francisco, and to some extent the nation.

"When I came back in the '80s, there were more homeowners, more affluent people, more professional people, who moved to Noe Valley because they wanted to raise their children there. I really enjoyed all of the toddlers and babies and how much the people using the library were still very much interested in promoting books and imparting their values to their children," she says.

Greifer was also inspired by neighborhood activists such as Sally Brunn and Miriam Blaustein, who enlisted hundreds of people in the fight to keep the branch open when it was slated for closure in 1988. "I feel that if it hadn't been for the local community, not only would the Noe Valley Library have been closed, but several other branches would have been closed, too. But history can repeat itself, and I think people take libraries for granted, like we take freedom for granted. Just like people should vote, they should actively participate in the community and in the library. The branch is going to be renovated and people should be involved, make their wishes known. It's your library, and you should have what you want," she advises.

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That's all of This 'n' That for 2003. Enjoy your holidays, and keep us in mind as you celebrate the milestones in your lives. Contact us by e-mailing Or leave a message at 821-3324 or write Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.