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A Father's Gift: How One Idea Became a Lasting Legacy of Love

The Gilles family (from L to R): Lisa, Maria, Sarah, Grace, Peter, and Jim

For one father, the countdown to Christmas began months before Advent began.

Earlier this year, parishioner Jim Gilles had an idea on his heart. A master craftsman, Jim wanted to share his talents with the Friends of Jesus, a St. Ladislas ministry.

Even though Advent was nearly a year away, Jim hoped to create Advent trees for his daughter, Sarah — an FOJ member — and her friends. Sarah's speech therapist and aide, Carol Becka, had a tradition of gifting the Gilles family Advent trees. The trees always included a card with scripture for each day of the season. This gift inspired Jim's desire to fashion similar trees for FOJ families. 

But, within weeks of sharing his vision, Jim’s health took a swift and unexpected turn. He passed away in March, not two months after he began attending FOJ gatherings with Sarah and his wife, Lisa.

FOJ members felt Jim’s hand at work from Heaven. They needed to complete the project he envisioned. With support from around the parish, the ministry got to work.

Lisa and their son, Peter, cut wood pieces. Joe Socha from the church's maintenance department then constructed smaller versions of the original Advent trees. Lisa and Jim’s two other daughters, Grace and Maria, helped too — making sure ornaments could attach to the trees. And those ornaments? The parish staff designed them using words that evoke the spirit of this beautiful Advent season.

The Friends of Jesus young adults, their families, and parish volunteers colored the ornaments during a recent gathering night, bringing Jim’s Advent tree project to completion.

Brady Stevens, an FOJ young adult, said he will always remember and honor Jim with his special tree. This was a labor of love came together with many hands and generous hearts.

Many thanks to the Gilles Family and Roselle Popeil for sharing this wonderful story. Is your ministry sharing the Good News in the community? Celebrating a big event? Let us know at

Related resources:
St. Ladislas Friends of Jesus celebrates summer's end with picnic (Diocese of Cleveland)
FOJ performs at Father Mark Latcovich's installation Mass (St. Ladislas YouTube)
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