Meet Rick and Sophia
By Marc Massery (Aug 11, 2017)
Rick "Noodles" Bari came to know his wife, Sophia, while he painted her three-story house and chatted with her over cheese and crackers and Mike's Hard Lemonade. Today, they volunteer together at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. But just over a decade ago, Sophia didn't know if she believed in God. In fact, she had been an agnostic since she was 14 years old. It wasn't until she was 72 that Rick finally led her to Christ, who forgave her past and brought her into the Catholic faith.
Sophia grew up in Austin, Texas, and was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant. Her mother was Catholic but her father, a Presbyterian, took her and her two sisters to Protestant services every Sunday. "My parents were both devout," Sophia said. "I thought they were too religious, and I didn't like it." So at age 14, Sophia rebelled. She stopped reading the Bible at night with her family and only agreed to go to church with them on Sundays while she lived at home.
Before Sophia met Rick, she fell in love with and married a man named Dick Bousquet. On a vacation to Mexico with her roommate during a school break, Sophia returned one night from a club and sat in the lobby with several other vacationers. She started talking to Dick who worked as a writer in Boston. He had a thick beard and, like Sophia, had rebelled against the Church. In fact, he had been a novice with a Catholic order of priests for 18 months until he all but completely lost his faith and never returned to Mass.
At 2 a.m. they began talking, and by 8 a.m. they were engaged to be married. "I liked the sound of the cool New England weather," Sophia said. "His thick beard and he was a writer — his whole style just interested me." They found a priest that morning, but he refused to marry them so quickly. Dick went back to Boston, and they kept in touch over the phone. He wrote a letter to Sophia's father asking for her hand in marriage, and three weeks later they met in Austin, Texas, and were married by a Presbyterian pastor.
Over the next several years, Sophia and Dick moved from Austin to Boston to Mexico back to Austin and then finally to Westfield, Massachusetts. Sophia worked as a nurse in pediatrics for many years. She organized the nurses' union and Governor Michael Dukakis appointed her to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing. "All that time we never went to church, and we were OK with it," Sophia said. But when she retired at age 65, she and Dick divorced. Since Dick had health problems, Sophia let him live rent free in her apartment building while he recovered, but they lived apart, no longer in love.
Alone one day on the porch of her upstairs apartment, Sophia sat in a deck chair and noticed families walking down her street on their way to church. She thought back to her childhood decades ago and remembered how her father used to walk her and her two sisters to church every Sunday. She said, "I thought this might be God trying to tell me something." She opened her Bible for the first time since she was young and tried to read it, but couldn't understand what she read. She shut it quickly and said a prayer, "God help me. I don't know what I'm reading."
Not long after, two Jehovah Witnesses knocked on her door. She told them about her recent interest in the Bible but that she couldn't understand it. For the next two years, on Monday mornings, they taught her Scripture. Though she enjoyed studying with them, she made it clear that she had no intention of becoming a Jehovah's Witness (she did not want to do door-to-door evangelization). They continued to meet with her anyway.
"Then Rick came into my life," she said.
She responded to a personal ad in the paper that said, "Alone too long, widowed ten years." Feeling bad for him, she called the number listed and invited him to meet.
"I got 300 calls from that ad," Rick said. "But Sophia was the last one I ever called back."
Sophia invited Rick over for pizza. "It was a 'ceramic' pizza," he said. "I'm Italian, so I know that she left it in too long." Despite the overcooked food, Rick and Sophia enjoyed each other's company, and their relationship grew. Rick volunteered to paint her house, and they talked during his cigarette breaks while she served him cheese and crackers and Mike's Hard Lemonade.
Rick, always a devout Catholic, never forced his religion on Sophia, but after a time, he started bringing her to Mass with him. She began watching "The Journey Home" on EWTN, fascinated by the conversion stories. But at age 72, she felt too old, too sinful to change. "I thought that if I ever become a Catholic, how could I go to Confession? I had too many sins."
One Saturday evening, Sophia accompanied Rick to Adoration at St. Mary's Church in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. While she knelt in prayer, she looked up at the Host in the Monstrance and heard a voice speak to her heart. She said it was the voice of Jesus assuring her of the forgiveness of her sins. A deep peace fell over her — she knew these were the words of Christ. Everything that she had been grappling with over the past few years resolved in an instant. At age 72, she began attending RCIA classes and was finally confirmed into the Catholic Church.
Since then, her faith has continued to grow. About 10 years ago, Rick developed prostate cancer. "The numbers on my tests were high. The levels were 1,500, which usually means it's curtains for you," Rick said. But Sophia had seen the Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN and saw that the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy was only an hour west on I-90.
Sophia and Rick took a trip one afternoon to Stockbridge to pray, and on the car ride back home to Westfield, Sophia said to Rick, "I have good news. The Lord told me that everything is going to be OK." While she prayed in the Shrine's side chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, she received her second clear message from Christ — that Rick would be alright. Sure enough, the next test showed Rick's levels at 0.06, back to normal. They visit Dana Farber Cancer Institute every three months, but the cancer has never returned. "It was a miracle," Rick said.
After Sophia's first husband passed away in 2012, she and Rick married in the Catholic Church. Rick and Sophia have been volunteering at the Shrine for more than a decade. They drive an hour from their home in Westfield to Stockbridge a few times a week to attend Mass.
"It's never too late," Sophia said. "Seventy-two years old and all those sins. It's never too late."