The short life of a devout, Catholic, young girl from Seattle has brought many Catholics across the United States back to the Church.  Her holy and loving example, as well as her battle with cancer, have drawn others to convert to Catholicism and have inspired the creation of an organization to reach out to families with a loved one facing a chronic illness.

Gloria was born in 1996 to Doug and Kristen Strauss and was like any other seven-year old.  She enjoyed playing with her six siblings and friends, dressing up, playing board games, picking flowers and watching the Fox television show, “American Idol.”  The young girl also had a special place in her heart for the Rosary and for making people feel good about themselves. However, no one could have predicted the amount of people her brief time on earth would touch.

Cancer diagnosis

CNA spoke with her father, Doug, who explained that one day in 2003 when Gloria was seven years-old, she was hit in the face with a ball resulting in a black eye.  When the color returned to normal after the seemingly minor injury, a suspicious bump remained.  After two trips to the doctor, she was referred to a specialist who instantly had a hunch it was cancer.

Gloria was diagnosed with a cancer known as neuroblastoma and only given a window of three months to three years to survive.  Following the diagnosis, Gloria immediately went into surgery and began chemotherapy treatments.  Doug explained that though it was difficult, the family resolved to remain “open to God’s plan in hopes that the family would be strengthened.”

At the time, Doug was a high school basketball coach who knew Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer.  Brewer had planned to run a single column on the family’s struggles while Doug coached during the season.  However, the first column attracted so many readers that the idea expanded into a five-month series of interviews with the Strauss family sharing Gloria’s faith and trust in God with those in Seattle and around the United States.

When Gloria’s condition took a turn for the worse in 2007, the family opened their home for community members to come and pray over her.  Doug explained that for three weeks, 50 – 60 people showed up Monday – Friday to pray the Rosary and sing praise and worship songs.  Later, when it became too much for the family, five members of the community opened up their homes to continue the prayers for Gloria.

Drawing others to Christ

After Gloria endured seven rounds of chemotherapy, the doctors decided to try a stem-cell transplant using her own stem-cells.  Doug said that at that point, he knew that Gloria was at her lowest point.  He was desperate and started to pray, “God help me, I don’t understand.” 

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He heard a voice say, “quality of life.”  He was confused, but went to Gloria the next day and asked if she’s had quality of life.  He didn’t expect her to understand, but she immediately responded, “yes daddy!”  She excitedly added that so many people have started praying because of her illness.

Doug explained that Gloria had a beautiful gift, she was able to draw people to Christ through her cancer.  “She taught us all how to carry a cross.  Her gift to us was her living example of her commitment to a relationship with God through constant prayer.  She always said, “yes.”

Writing in the Seattle Times column, Doug recalled that they “would ask if it was all right to have a healing Mass,” and she would answer, “oh yea!”  Other times they would ask: “How about if 50 people come over to pray the Rosary over you tonight?”  She’d say, “oh yea!”

“From shots to sickness it always began and ended with the sign of the cross,” Doug continued.  “Often doctors would have to stand and wait as she made the sign of the cross and prayed. Amazing to watch!”

It wasn’t just her actions that drew people to Christ. Doug recalled how everyone spoke of Gloria’s presence.  “She had this presence that allowed people to want to be with her and pray for her.”  Even at the age of seven, “she knew her calling to bring people to God through her cancer.” 

People from all religions were attracted to Gloria and her family through the front-page column in the Seattle Times.  “Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, they all wrote in to the paper talking about how they’ve been impacted by her life,” Doug said.  “Everyone knew we were Catholic – we didn’t have to profess it – we wanted prayers from everyone,” Doug continued. 

Doug even mentioned a blind man that had written him a letter saying that he had been praying Rosaries for Gloria and wanted to meet her.  Miraculously, when she entered the room he could see her dressed in white.  The man told Doug however that when she left, he was blind once again.

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Though prayers for Gloria kept coming, her cancer continued to spread and she died on September 21, 2007.

Gloria’s impact

Immediately following Gloria’s death, the family realized the large impact that Gloria had on the community.

Doug explained that people came all over to view her body before and after the Rosary.  He added that he received a letter from a Lutheran man who attends Eucharistic adoration at a Catholic church who said that he had to go so that he could “see a saint in person.”

Then at the funeral, over 3,200 showed up and the family began to hear stories of how Gloria’s life and struggle had transformed lives.

One man from Virginia had read about Gloria and explained that he felt like he was “hit over the head by a 2 x 4.”  The man had been on a four-day drinking binge and he completely gave up alcohol after reading the story on her illness and strength of faith.

Not only do the Strausses have a list of others who have quit different drug addictions because of Gloria, but they are aware of at least ten people who have become Catholic directly due to Gloria’s story – and more are continuing to convert.  One in particular was a nurse at the Children’s hospital who hadn't grown up going to church.  After seeing little Gloria’s faith, she knew she had to do something about it.

According to the Catholic Northwest Progress, one Presbyterian family became Catholic after Gloria attended a camp for ill children and their families.  One of the volunteers, Brinn Funai continued to keep in touch with Kristen Strauss, Gloria’s mother, after the week’s activities.

Brinn explained that she had been checking into Catholicism, but meeting Kristen and the Strausses “was a big turning point for me.”  They “really helped kind of soften that road so to speak, to coming into the church.”

“I told her right before she died, ‘Gloria, we’re going to become Catholic,’” said Brinn. “And she said, ‘Wow!’” The Funais were received into Catholic Church at Easter 2008.

Not only did the girl’s life touch individuals, but she also inspired the organization, “Gloria’s Angels.”

Gloria’s Angels

At a point when Gloria’s health continued to fade, the family’s spiritual advisor spoke to Bob Turner, a Seattle business man, about assisting the family in the days following Gloria’s cancer.  “Either she was going to experience a miraculous healing or she was going to pass away,” Turner explained.  “In either case, [the spiritual advisor] recognized that the Strauss family would have some mission to serve.”

Turner explained that he decided “to bring his business skills into a partnership with the Strauss family to help them honor her and carry on her mission.”  After weeks of discernment, Turner and the Strauss family decided that Gloria’s mission could best be carried out by serving families facing life-threatening illnesses.

And so Gloria’s Angels was born. 

The organization works to smooth out the “roller coaster ride” that families with a sick member experience.  While many agencies exist to assist families in need, oftentimes loved ones are unaware of the services offered or need help with the coordination.  Gloria’s Angels steps in for guidance to piece everything together.

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