Dawn Curazzato faced every grandmother's nightmare in 1996. Her granddaughter Katelin was born with serious health problems. She was unable to eat or breathe on her own. After prayers and a visit to Audrey Santo, who some consider an intercessor for miracles, Katelin's condition improved. Curazzato then set out to fulfill her promise to make the Lord's true presence known.
The Williamsville resident now leads the Ladies of the Lord, a group of women who pray for personal petitions, priests, parishioners, youth, country and the world.
"A lot of wonderful ministries have come out of this, but our main focus is prayer. Any decisions we make, everything begins with prayer," Curazzato said.
The prayer group began with humble beginnings in 1999, with Curazzato and five other women meeting in each other's homes to pray for Katelin. Now more than 200 women pack into two rooms at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville once a month to pray for all.
What makes this group unique is its origins. Curazzato began the group with her friends after visiting Audrey Santo, who fell into a coma after nearly drowning at age 3. Visitors have reported seeing blood and oil dripping from the religious statues in her bedroom. Curazzato felt the visit led to Katelin's recovery. She now uses her granddaughter's story as a witness to God working in her life. Curazzato and other members of the prayer group give presentations at parishes, telling how God has made a difference in their lives.
Meetings, which take place the second Thursday of the month at St. Greg's, begin with petitions they have been asked to pray for, followed by both the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet. Then they read from the Catechism, Bible and St. Faustina's diary. After a discussion on the readings or a guest speaker, they take time for fellowship with coffee and cake.
Members take the spirit of the group out into the neighborhood. One woman in her 80s brings the Blessed Mother pilgrim statue to area homes every Saturday. Another group prays the rosary for the country every Saturday. Members visit prisoners, make prayer shawls, and serve as honor guards for funerals. The focus remains on prayer. One group travels to promote the real presence in the Eucharist.
"There are a lot of ministries that have come out of this and we believe that's from prayer," Curazzato said. "When these ministries start, I think, 'OK, they started their ministry. They'll move and go on.' But they don't. They come back to the group to focus on prayer and get the strength that is needed from that prayer."
"Our goal is to reach the youth," said founding member Kathy Deakin. "We like to work with confirmation kids to get them to understand the true meaning of Jesus in the Eucharist."
During public presentations the Ladies will have two tables of rosaries, medals, scapulars and Catholic literature, all blessed by a priest, to give away. Curazzato feels the importance of such items has been lost over the past couple of generations.
"They are a reminder of God's presence. They're sacramentals," she said. "Even when we go into different parishes and we speak to confirmation groups, sometimes the religious ed person will tell us, 'These things are archaic. Nobody does this any more.' But I can tell you without exception the kids come to the table and they wipe us out, and the parents actually have to come in and get the kids."
Deakin has seen many blessings from their prayers, mostly children being healed from illnesses.
"I had a neighbor across the street whose granddaughter was in intensive care, born with a heart issue," she said. "They didn't think she'd make it. We had the prayer group praying. That meant so much to the mother and grandmother. They were convinced that all the prayers were helping the child. So we emphasize the power of prayer in the life of that baby."
The baby still has a little problem with her heart, but she is out of ICU and is expected to make a full recovery.
While praying for others, Tricia Maritato has seen a change come over the women, that benefits themselves.
"These women come in very stressed out," she said. "They have a son who maybe has a drug addiction. These are things they can't talk about, they can't really tell us about. But they come in very stressed, and as we pray, they're lifted of it. They get a sense of joy, a sense of hope. That's the biggest part. There's kind of a mental healing. When people are going through things that are so terrible in their life sometimes they feel all alone. This gives them an avenue."
Curazzato now wants to spread the work of the Ladies of the Lord to more parishes across the diocese and country. Bishop Richard J. Malone gave his blessing for her to expand the Ladies of the Lord.
During a trip to Florida last March to make a presentation, Curazzato told a neighbor about her granddaughter's healing. The next day that woman said she wanted to enter the Catholic Church.
"That made my whole trip," Curazzato said.
Usually Curazzato doesn't have time after a presentation to see the results, how her talk affected people.
"It's not up to me to know that," she said. "It's up to me to set up the meeting between God and these people and let them know that God is real and that He is really truly present in the Eucharist, because that event of me witnessing the real presence in the Eucharist is what changed my whole life immediately and forever."
The only requirement to be a Lady of the Lord is to pray everyday and pray for the people who petition for their prayers. There have even been a few men who have attended. They're known as Laddies of the Lord.
"I don't request that anybody be at the meetings, and we get 60 to 80 women at every meeting," Curazzato said. "So, maybe that's the key. Tell them they don't have to come and they come. What's good about that is I know they come because they know the power of prayer and they're coming because they want to come."
Busy taking care of her mother-in-law and with her work as a Third Order Carmelite, Maritato didn't feel she could commit to being a regular part of a prayer group. As a Lady of the Lord she is able to contribute through daily prayers at home.
"What attracted me was it was a gift I could give myself, so if I could go and pray with these women, I didn't have to call anybody if I couldn't," said Maritato. "I think the attraction to the group is there is no dues, there is no commitment."
"I think it's pretty powerful because it brings a parish together because we're all in there praying," Deakin said. "The comments we hear are, 'I could feel the Holy Spirit in the room.' Everyone seems to be in sync with the prayers when they're all together. It all flows."
For more information contact Dawn Curazzato at 716-689-6906 or via email.