It was an announcement made at the end of a 4 p.m. vigil Mass in March at St. Clement of Rome Church in Metairie that still has Gail Daigle shaking her head in disbelief.
“I am listening to the guest speaker when all of a sudden, I hear her call my name,” Daigle recalled. “I could hear people applauding, but I couldn’t move. I really didn’t know what to think. My husband, Roy, and my daughter, Susan, are trying to get me out of the pew and I am asking ‘What? Why?’ I still can’t believe it. I feel most unworthy.”
The family insistence she “get out of the pew” was to receive the Regina Matrum Award, given every spring since 1947 by the Council of Catholic Schools Cooperative Clubs, a volunteer parent club organization in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, to an outstanding Catholic mother who possesses the ideals of Catholic motherhood and family life.
Daigle will receive the award from Archbishop Gregory Aymond at a special Mass at 7 p.m. Monday at St. Clement, her parish church since 1965.
MaryDana Dandry is the chairwoman for the Regina Matrum committee, and she was the guest speaker that day in March at St. Clement. The nominating process, Dandry said, includes letters written by family members and friends on behalf of the nominees who represent church parishes from throughout the archdiocese.
“A committee consisting of CCSCC board members helps review all received applications and submits the chosen finalist to the current CCSCC spiritual director, who with the committee of his choosing, makes the final decision on our awarded recipient,” Dandry said. “The name of recipient is kept very quiet until the official announcement.
“I had not met Gail until the day of the announcement. However, I have to say, just by reading her life story told by her family, friends and colleagues, Gail was able to touch my life in a way that I have woken up every morning striving to be a better wife and mother. I couldn’t wait to meet Gail and tell her just how much her story meant to me. She truly represents a model Catholic mother.”
High school sweethearts, the Daigles recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. In addition to their daughter, Susan, who lives in Metairie, they have one grandson, David, 22, who will graduate from LSU this spring.
And while they have had a marriage filled with much happiness, the Daigles have gone through periods of great loss, two miscarriages and the deaths of five children.
“My first miscarriage was in 1957, nine months after our daughter, Susan, was born,” Gail Daigle said. “And my second miscarriage was in 1969. We named our miscarriages Carol and Adrian.”
The five children who died are Roy, who was born July 25, 1958, and died Aug. 18, 1958; David, who was born Nov. 15, 1959, and died March 7, 1993, at the age of 33; Bradley, who was born March 19, 1961, and died March 21, 1961; Tommy, who was born April 24, 1962, and died the same day; and Mary Anne, who was born Oct. 18, 1967, and died two days later.
They also lost two grandsons.
“Our first grandson, Michael John Deister, was born Nov. 9, 1982, and died Nov. 21, 1982,” Gail Daigle said. “And our second grandson, John David Deister, was born June 15, 1984, and died Dec. 22, 1986.
“When you lose a child, or in our case, several babies, I think people react by either turning away from God or turning to God,” Gail Daigle said. “Of course, Roy and I were so sad, but in those difficult times, we drew closer to each other and to the church. We could not have handled any of this without one another and without God.”
Several years ago, the Daigles went to the Holy Land. While there, they visited the Garden of Olives, an area located east of the Kidron Valley, an area on the eastern side of Jerusalem.
“Somewhere while we were in the Garden of Olives, I read the words ‘Lord, we don’t understand but we trust,’ ” Roy Daigle said. “Those words sum up exactly how Gail and I have lived our life together. It really is our motto.”
Gail Daigle’s volunteer work is extensive and includes membership in the St. Clement Guild and the St. Clement Altar Society. She has been a volunteer for 32 years at East Jefferson General Hospital, helping at the information desk as well in the palliative care department.
“Right now, I am helping with a program to sit with patients who are nearing the end of their life,” Daigle said. “These are people who have no family and who are, well, basically, alone. I sometimes read to them and other times, I pray the rosary. Being able to do this is so very meaningful to me. I feel this is where God really wants me to be.”
The Daigles have volunteered with the Meals on Wheels program and the archdiocese’s Marriage Encounter program. They are both longtime Eucharistic ministers at St. Clement. And they served as foster parents for many years.
“Being foster parents was really wonderful,” Gail Daigle said. “I felt blessed to be able to hold and care for those babies, since I lost so many of my own.”
The Rev. Luis Rodriguez is the pastor of St. Clement of Rome.
“Gail is an endearing person; people love her,” Rodriguez said. “Both she and Roy are people of service, helping their community wherever they are needed. They are not bystanders in the parish; they are active members in our parish family.
“I know there were many letters written on Gail’s behalf. So for Gail to receive the Regina Matrum Award is a wonderful honor for her and for our parish as well.”
Roy Daigle said he isn’t surprised his wife is being honored.
“Gail cares so much about our church and our community,” he said. “She is the type of person who will do anything for anyone. And I admire her for accepting the loss, the deaths of our children. Gail is truly a beautiful mother.”
As Monday evening draws closer, Gail Daigle said she still feels “unworthy” receiving the Regina Matrum Award.
“I am honored to have just been nominated,” she said. “When people congratulate me, I am now trying to only say ‘thank you’ and not question why I am receiving the award. This has been a truly humbling experience, something I still can’t quite believe.”