On All Saints Day I was remembering Mary Hultse, who left this earth in 2018 and left Princeton before that. In preparation for the All Saints Day service on November 6 at Princeton United Methodist Church, we were asked to think about who were the saints in our lives
The name “saint” implies perfect, but according to Derek Weber, who quotes Psalm 149 in his All Saint’s Day meditation for the Upper Room Disciplines book, “saints of God are those who accept the invitation to dance. A saint is someone who knows something of the joy of living, even in the hardest moments of life. A saint is someone who knows something of the exuberance of praise, even when tears fall like rain and sweat falls like great drops of blood.”
As a successful advertising executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Mary Hultse commuted to Princeton from an apartment on the Upper West Side, where she was a regular at Riverside Church. Then she bought a second apartment, a fourth-floor corner walkup on Palmer Square, so that she could look out over Princeton University and enjoy walking around town. She retired in 1990.
Mary had such joie de vivre – going dancing, loving beautiful art, anything Hungarian, and clothes. She told stories of escaping Hungary with gold coins sewn into the hem of her dress. With a passion for the arts – she loved to sing, act, and dance – she joined local theater groups and played Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma” at Washington Crossing. She was beloved by the staff at Richardson Auditorium, where she volunteered as an usher. Devoutly faithful, she enthusiastically participated in the life of Princeton United Methodist Church (PrincetonUMC) and was in charge of the Altar Guild. She reveled in her Hungarian heritage and loved the daughters of a Hungarian family as if they were her grandchildren.
She was a trooper – not just in drama, but in stamina – even with arthritis and knee surgery, she trudged up four flights, 67 steps, to keep her view. She had Moxie, like the name of her former German shepherd. She had faith and extreme hospitality. But what we loved about Mary is that she helped us to be our Best Selves.
Everyone she met was perfect – beautiful, wonderful, perfect. When you think about Mary glowing with compliments — that’s the kind of love that Jesus offers. Unconditional love. Like at PrincetonUMC, when we say “You are enough because God is enough.”
The same qualities that made her a good executive – persistence, insistence – eventually evolved into just plain obstinance, masking depression and the beginning of dementia. When she began to fail, she refused to move away from her apartment. It was so hard to help her, because she would agree to something one day and refuse the next day.
An ad-hoc care team of a dozen PrincetonUMC people did help her stay in that apartment. We alternated taking her places. One woman did her wash. Others brought her home for meals and took her shopping. Walking behind her, we pushed her up those stairs and fetched cappuccinos from the Palmer Square kiosk. We worked with Princeton Senior Resource Center. We worked with Palmer Square management and (surreptitiously) with her doctors. We worked with McCaffrey’s. (Wanting to be independent, she would go to McCaffrey’s on the bus but not be able to get home. They would call us to come pick her up and we would dispatch someone on the Mary Team.) A couple from the church put in endless hours to organize her finances and pay her taxes. Along with her Hungarian friends, we were her family.
In the end, we were the benefactors, because in helping Mary, we got to be the best we could be. We surprised ourselves. We found out how good it felt to act out our faith.
In his meditation Weber refers to the English carol Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. “In his own voice and with his life, Jesus calls all to dance with joy for this gift of life eternal. . . On All Saints’ Day, we remember those whose dancing with their Lord has given us all hope. And we aspire to follow them in the music and dance Jesus is leading.”
Mary Hultse embodied the spirit of the eternal dance.