As a lifelong learner, Marie Allen was an elementary school teacher in various roles for 40 years. She has a master’s degree in guidance and counseling, and took courses in drawing, auto maintenance and woodworking for women, to name a few. At the age of 40, she learned how to scuba dive. When her husband, David, studied to become a deacon, she also completed the basic and advanced Marian Catechist courses on her own. “It’s essential that we continue learning about our Faith and prayer as adults because we have such a different perspective on life as we grow into adulthood, middle and old age. Just as your relationship with your spouse grows deeper over the years you are married, your relationship with God can grow deeper, too, if you nourish it,” Marie explains.
The Allens have opened their home for many years to people from across the globe through various international programs. Throughout all her hosting, Marie has experienced not only innumerable learning opportunities but also plenty of humorous moments. “I remember when one of the Russian doctors who stayed with us held out a pair of shorts from his laundry and said, ‘This is not my umbrella.’”
Marie and Dave have also hosted Muslim doctors from the country of Tajikistan. “Hospitality is a way of practicing my Faith. We glorify God when we make others feel welcome in our home.” Marie admits, at that time, “I knew very little about the Muslim faith.” For example, Marie would prepare dinner every night and call her guests down to eat. But the doctors would say that they couldn’t eat. Not yet. They would first go up to their rooms, unfold a mat and proceed to pray at sunset for about 10 to 15 minutes. Only then would they come down to the dinner table and share the meal. Marie found it remarkable that two very busy adult men would stop what they were doing at very specific times in their day to take time to pray. “Dedication to daily prayer … this was a priority in their lives,” says Marie. “I also need to make prayer a priority in my life.”
In turn, the Allens were invited to a Muslim dinner at a community center in La Crosse where other Muslims gathered for fellowship. “We experienced the men and women being separated for their prayer time. They also brought in so many wonderful food dishes; things I had never tasted before,” says Marie. “It was a true feast. It was a connection, and it was learning on both sides.” These same guests also expressed their interest in pipe organ music. So Marie took them to Sunday Mass at St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral in La Crosse. “He asked if it was OK to video [record the Mass] and I said, ‘Yes.’ But he seemed to know at the time of the consecration it was not a good time to record.” Marie felt he inherently knew this was a time of great reverence. “They learned about our culture. We learned about their culture. I’ll never forget it.”
The Allens’ hospitality also extends to service. For example, Marie and Dave helped to purchase and donate boxes of very specific light bulbs for otoscopes for a pediatric doctor because he was unable to purchase them in his own country.
This love of education, learning and hospitality also translates well into her love of travel and immersing herself in other cultures and peoples. As part of a group whose purpose is to promote relationships with their sister parish in Ifakara, Tanzania, Marie was able to travel to St. Andrew Parish and experience their culture. “In Tanzania, one thing that struck me was the number of children running around playing outside. It could have been my neighborhood in Minneapolis, where I grew up, because of all the children there. When I came back (from Tanzania), I looked around and I thought ‘Where are our children?’ It’s a sadness in our culture,” she laments.
Marie grew up the oldest of nine siblings. She attended Catholic schools all her formative years and said a decade of the rosary with her mother and siblings many nights before bedtime. She developed a devotion to Mary, along with a devotion to working with and teaching children. When they were first married, Marie and Dave experienced a year of infertility. They consulted infertility specialists but also sought the intercession of St. Joseph by praying a novena under his protection. “That month, our daughter Laura was conceived,” shares Marie. In the coming years, the Allens added two sons to their family, Christopher and Nathan.
Marie is active in pro-life events in the area. “My next-door neighbor and good friend, Marianne Pittman, started a 40 Days for Life campaign in La Crosse in 2009. She brought in people of different faiths. Marianne died a few years ago, but I honor her and her life by continuing to be involved with the pro-life movement.” Marie and others have since branched out into more pro-life events and ministries, forming a group called the La Crosse Life League. For more than 10 years, they’ve hosted a Ladies for Life Tea and, this year, they are organizing a benefit for the Education Task Force of Pro-Life Wisconsin. She is also part of a group to renew Project Rachel within the diocese. “Prayer is an important part of our group,” says Marie. So what does one do when friends or family do not share the same beliefs? “Sometimes it’s been difficult because I do have friends who think abortion is OK,” said Marie. When it comes to handling situations such as these, she simply answers, “I pray for the conversion of people to a culture of life.”
All her works do not stop there. For her love of the Eucharist, she has resumed her duties as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and also leads the rosary before Sunday Mass. She is active in the parish’s women’s club, as well as the Catholic Daughters of America. “I see my own personal education as being important, not only educating myself with the material world but the spiritual world as well,” she says. And when she travels, she always seeks out a Catholic church to attend Sunday Mass. “Even though I may not understand the language, I am comforted by the tradition of the liturgy and by the reception of the Eucharist, wherever I may be in the world.”
Marie’s gentle understanding without judgment is what is evident for her faith motivation. “God loves me and I share that love with others. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? I am so grateful for all God has given me.”
Although her life may seem like one of globetrotting bliss and carefree selfless service, she’s also had many difficulties and challenges. Loved ones have died, and others have experienced addiction and mental illness. “It’s sometimes hard to understand why God throws these roadblocks in our way, but He has a way of turning even hardships around to bring us closer to Himself.”
Story by Marcy Stenstrom
Published in the Jan./Feb. 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine