The classic gospel song, "He Touched Me," epitomizes Diane Dryja's faith life perfectly. It was 40 years ago when the faithful Buffalo woman felt a change come over her, compelling her to live out her life in the way Jesus asks her.
A lifelong parishioner of St. Gerard Parish, formerly in Buffalo, Dryja and her husband, Andrew, were asked to attend an eight-day mission renewal program at the now-closed parish. It was July 1975. A little reluctant at first, (who wants to spend eight evenings in church?) but they agreed.
There, the Dryjas learned about Jesus, the sacraments, the church community and "where we fit into this big scheme that the Lord has in the Catholic Church." When the program ended, Diane found herself wanting more. So, the Dryjas began spending their Monday nights at the prayer meetings held at St. Gerard's. They attended a Life in the Spirit Seminar, which brings people into a deeper experience of the work of the Holy Spirit. It was there that Dryja felt, literally, the Spirit entering her life.
"The night before I was to be prayed over for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we were having a closing Mass for our second Mission Renewal program," she said getting choked up in recalling the details. "After going to Communion, I came back to my seat, and all I said was 'Jesus, I need you.' At that point something happened in my life.
"I felt something. And right after that, they had a Communion meditation song. They used Barbara Streisand singing 'He touched me. He touched me. And nothing is the same.' Since then, it's true, nothing has been the same. The Lord, He became real to me in my life. He was my savior. He was my friend. And I depended on Him and looked to Him for guidance in my life."
Diane dove head first into a ministry of healing. She became a member of the Upper Room Prayer Ministry, going to hospitals to pray for physical and emotional healings. "That was my start in the healing ministry," she said.
She later joined the Charismatic Renewal Service Team and continues to help Father Richard DiGiulio run Life in the Spirit seminars throughout the diocese. Four years ago she joined Father DiGiulio and Father Thomas Roman as part of the Burning Bush House of Prayer, helping people with deep wounds in their souls. In her role as team leader, Dryja prays with people, ministers to them to help with spiritual growth, healing and wholeness.
"She's a very valuable part of our ministry," Father DiGiulio said. "She's been instrumental in discerning many cases, and bringing inner healing."
Her work with the Church has given Dryja a reputation as the go-to person when in a personal crisis. While serving as treasurer of her credit union, she went into the office of the manager who seemed troubled. After the manager told her there was something wrong with her, Dryja asked is she should call the manager's husband or do something for her. Then Dryja asked the manager if she could pray with her. After a few weeks of Dryja taking her to church, the manager accepted Jesus into her life shortly before passing away from a brain tumor.
Dryja recalls a neighbor's conversion during a New Year's Eve party one year. At midnight, Dryja and her neighbors would add prayer to the celebration. The neighbor has been going to church ever since.
"I think he was touched by the Lord that evening as we were praying," Dryja said. "Before that he would argue with me all the time about Church and religion. He didn't want to have anything to do with it."
Dryja's love for the Lord compels the 68-year-old to continue giving of herself to others. She said she wants to be a witness to God's love.
"I try to be an example at work of not just a healing ministry, but being receptive to people, to be considerate, to be kind, to listen to people, to hear them," she said. "There are a lot of personal issues that people have and they bring them with them to work. I want to be there for people, not just as their boss."
Recently retired from Kaleida Health's microbiology lab, Dryja continues her work in prayer groups and healing ministries. She also serves as a lector at St. Lawrence Parish in Buffalo.
"What I want to do is what the Lord wants me to do," she said. "I want Him to guide me and direct me, but I want to be a witness to His love and His healing power so that I can share that with others. Not only with others, but I want to serve Him. I think that's the big thing. I want to serve Him by serving others, whether it be serving in the kitchen making coffee or praying over people. Whatever His will is for me, that's what I want to do. I want to be guided by Him to do what He wants me to do, so others can come to know Him." She gets choked up again as she puts into words the thoughts in her heart.
Sometimes it can be hard to recognize a call to ministry. Dryja said other people saw she had a gift well before she did.
"It all kind of fit into place," she said. "It started out in the prayer group. People would pray with people. I guess somebody may have recognized that there may be a gift there because I started to pray with people."