Suzanna Toolan

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Our Woman of the Week was nominated by a fellow parishioner. When asked why, he wrote, “Where do I even begin? Disability rights advocate and counselor; directs her own charity program finding new homes for surplus medical equipment, directed the St Jacob [of Alaska parish]'s charity fund with outreach to all local agencies to find cases of real hardship, directed the church's angel tree program for gifts to needy children; Parish Council president, former choir member, an extraordinary dynamo - to do all this and to respond immediately to emails would be amazing, to do it with severely limited vision is extraordinary.” Her name is Suzanna Toolan. Here she is in her own words:

“I have been a member of St. Jacob of Alaska Orthodox Church for 25 years. St Jacob is a mission church of the Orthodox Church of America. The mission was established in Montpelier, Vermont, but has resided in Northfield Falls Vermont for many years. I am a founding member. I have always identified my spiritual journey through life as a member of the body of Christ in which male and female are equal in the sight of God.

“My journey started 72 years ago when I was Baptized into the body of Christ as an infant. My father took complete responsibility for my spiritual upbringing. He emphasized two main tenets that I have carried with me through life. The first is that to be a Christian is to take care of others in need and to be open to the needs of the world around you, including the environment and all God’s creatures. The second is that you should attend liturgy every Sunday and all feast days. Implicit in this is that Holy Communion and confession are an integral part of regular worship. These two tenets have been integrated into my life to the point I do not feel them as parts of my life but infused through my being. God called me to a life of service to others. He has given me the strength and blessings necessary to do this work. I have never distinguished between service in the community and service in and through the church. It all blends into one whole. I have developed and directed a Christian group for unwed mothers; worked as a peer counselor for the Vermont Center of Independent Living (for individuals with disabilities). There’s a lot to do in the life of a mission, and ours has found a way to build out its life so that most of our people are involved. Take me for example: I’ve been a part of our church’s charity committee for over 20 years; organized Christmas gifts through our church for needy families; run an nonprofit with my husband to recycle medical equipment and supplies and give them free to people. I also served as our Church Council President for seven years and guided the church through a very difficult time between priests.”


You can learn more about Suzanna’s mission community here:

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Our Woman of the Week is Suzanna Toolan, disability rights activist and parish founder and mainstay. You see her here in the shed where she stores medical equipment for one of her organizations: 

"“I especially love our Orthodox services and the deep meanings they convey. To be Orthodox is to embrace a lifestyle that is not always easy. Fasting and cooking vegan meals come to mind--as well as services that can be a little long by American standards. One of the special blessings I have received in the past few years is to take part in a three-day retreat at the monastery of New Skete in Cambridge, New York. This is a women’s retreat organized and run by Sister Rebecca, and we usually have up to nine women from our mission in attendance. We have forged a new depth to our relationships with each other, and we all feel that we have grown spiritually under Sister Rebecca’s direction. It is not easy to keep the momentum from the retreat going through the year, but we are trying to meet for prayer, bible reading, and fellowship.

“My area of weakness in service to others is in evangelism. I understand my faith, but I find it difficult to articulate it to others--especially to those who have very different views. When I stand in church during the liturgy and the choir sings the Cherubic Hymn, I stand in awe and ask God how I or any of us have been so lucky to have been invited to such an incredible spiritual banquet. I realize it is my duty to share this wonderful gift with others.“         

To learn more about New Skete, where Suzanna went on retreat:

We asked our Woman of the Week, Suzanna Toolan, about how she fits her morning routine into all her other activities: 

"I have always been a night person. Between my child raising years and my work life I, by necessity, became a morning person. I am now retired and can enjoy a more leisurely morning. On most days when there are no morning meetings or appointments I get up around 9 to 10. I say my morning prayers in my Icon Corner. I then eat a piece of toast and take my medications. Now, I am ready to settle down in my favorite chair to read while I drink two cups of coffee. I love to read and I am able to spend some time each day enjoying this pastime. While I am a Mystery and Suspense fan, I read a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. I am almost completely blind and I read braille. I also listen to books on tape. In the morning I listen to a book on tape. In the evening I try to read 20 pages of Braille. When I have finished my second cup of coffee, it is time to start the day. I spend an hour and a half reading. If there are interruptions, it can take longer. People call each day looking for medical equipment. We can get up to 20 calls a day. My husband handles the early calls starting at 8 and when I get up I take over. While we ask people to call before they come to our house, people show up unannounced, and I must attend to their needs. Then, there is my dog.  Scooby’s job is to let me know if cars or people are in the dooryard. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between this bark and the “I want to eat that squirrel teasing me through the window” one. Either way I must get up and go to the window to look. Sometimes, I actually get to read without interruptions, and I truly enjoy these mornings."

Thank you, Suzanna!

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View the entire list of Woman of the Week.