Guided By Angels

By Ann Rooney Heuer, ‘78 

For centuries, angels have been an integral part of a number of world faiths.  Global fascination with these heavenly messengers has made angels popular subjects for religious art, as well as gift items, books, and memorable television programs such as “Touched by an Angel” and classic films like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  According to Monica Saltarelli, ’86, Niagara University campus minister and part-time religious studies faculty member, millions of people around the world believe in angels, and she is decidedly among them.  Since the 1990’s, when Saltarelli first presented a lecture on angels to a regional diocesan catechist workshop, she has immersed herself in the biblical-based study of these spiritual beings. [spacer height=”20px”]

A Global Belief 

“Twenty years ago there were only six books in print about angels,” Saltarelli says.  “Now there are hundreds.”  She notes that many people are exploring spirituality these days, while not necessarily aligning themselves with a particular religion.  She’s quick to caution, however, that a number of new-age cults are linked to angels.  “In our Judeo-Christian background, we believe that angels are messengers of God who cannot do anything God does not will them to do.  You have to look for the root of an angel’s power.  If the root is not God, then a particular belief is not biblically based.”

         Quite appropriately, the word “angel” means messenger.  “God created angels for protection and comfort, so that we are not afraid,”  Saltarelli explains.  While angels are neither male nor female and they do not age, they can appear as human beings of any age, and they can eat and speak.   Angels can even appear as animals, and they don’t have to have wings, as artists often depict them.

         “Human beings are made lower than the angels,” Saltarelli says, “yet after we die, we are higher than angels.”  Many people believe that their deceased loved ones become angels, but according to Judio-Christian belief, this is not so.  Saltarelli explains that our loved ones become spiritual beings at death, and she believes they can “intercede for us.”  In fact, she says, “Out of love for us, I believe God uses our dreams to send us messages from our deceased loved ones.”  Saltarelli feels blessed that angels have mysteriously helped and comforted her at times of crisis or danger in her life.

         Interestingly, Saltarelli notes, many people are not aware that belief in angels is shared by the three prophetic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Both Christians and Muslims believe angels are present at the transition times of birth and death, and that angels exist to submit to the will of God.  While Catholics believe in the concept of guardian angels, Muslims believe that each person has two angels.  One angel records a person’s good deeds and the other records the bad.  At death, both books are weighed in.

         References to angels are woven through the Old and New Testament, and the Christian faith holds that there is a hierarchy of angels, based upon the writings of the sixth-century theologian Dionysius, a Syrian monk.  This hierarchy was later adopted by Thomas Aquinas, a theologian and church philosopher.  In the celestial hierarchy, there are three spheres, with the angels in the first sphere closest to God.  These are known as the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones, and their function is to worship God around the heavenly throne.  Angels in the second sphere include dominions, virtues and powers, and they preserve order and carry God’s will in the cosmos.  Angels in the third sphere deal directly with earth, communicating God’s plan and protecting and guarding human beings.  These are the principalities, archangels, and angels.

         To Saltarelli, it’s no mystery why many people are eager to learn more about angels.  In the fast-paced and unpredictable world we live in, she says people are comforted by these celestial beings.  “Angels are another example of God’s love for us,” she says. “They fill a void, and offer us a sense of protection, and of a higher power working for us.”  In her experience as a campus minister, Saltarelli has found that those college students who aren’t committed to a particular religion often find a sense of hope and goodness from their belief in angels.

         Since childhood, Saltarelli has been fascinated by angels.  As a little girl attending Catholic grade school in Tonawanda, N.Y., she learned early on about her guardian angel, and often imagined her angel was so tiny that it perched on her bedpost each night to watch her sleep.  Laughingly, she adds, “At 6, I was very fashion-conscious and worried that angels might have a difficult time changing their clothes because of their wings.  My mother, though, assured me that angels have special ways of doing things, and not to worry.”  Her mother was right.   Saltarelli feels blessed that angels have mysteriously helped and comforted her at times of crisis or danger in her life. [spacer height=”20px”]

An Angel Named Jack 

         There’s a passage in the New Testament that states, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”(Hebrews 13:2).  Saltarelli knows how true these words are, for she met a fatherly angel in 1987, although she admits she didn’t realize it at the time.

         Back then, she was living alone in Philadelphia, and attending Villanova University for graduate studies.  She was eager to make her own way in the world, and not rely on her beloved parents who were busy raising her four brothers and sisters.  Admittedly tempting fate, she drove a “Fred Flintstone” car, an AMC Concord that was ready for the junkyard.  One day when her muffler system fell off the car, she went to a chain service center in Philadelphia to get her car repaired.  “The guy there was going to charge me $650,” Saltarelli says, “and I knew I couldn’t afford that.”  She remembers fighting back tears and walking out of the service center while praying to God, “What am I going to do?”  As she drove slowly down the avenue, she spotted a small service station and decided to stop there for a second opinion.  When she parked, she noticed that only one gentleman was around.  He was an African-American man with salt-and –pepper hair and he wore a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit with the name “Jack” embroidered on it.  A red service truck was parked out in front of the station.

         “Right away, Jack seemed to know a lot about me,” Saltarelli explains, “although I’d never met him.”  He was friendly and warm and examined the car, telling Saltarelli that he could tell from her accent and her license plate that she was not “from around here.”  He went on to say that she was a young lady, and he could take advantage of her by charging her hundreds of dollars to fix her car, but he wouldn’t do that.  He added that there was absolutely nothing left on the bottom of her car to attach a new muffler system to.

         For Saltarelli, the situation was going from bad to worse.  “Jack could likely see how upset I was, and he proceeded to tell me exactly what to do,” Saltarelli said.  “He told me to go home and call my father right away to explain the situation to him.  He added that my dad would understand completely, and would help me finance a new car.  And he told me I could come back later with my old car, and he would tow it away for free.”   Jack gave her his business card, but only the station’s name was on it.

         After Saltarelli spoke with Jack, she felt peaceful, then a bit curious.  She drove away wondering how this stranger even knew she had a father, and that all would be well after she spoke to him.  But Jack was right.  She called home and her father didn’t hesitate to help.  He immediately offered to pick up the payments for the new car until she graduated.

         I went home to Tonawanda, bought the new car, and returned to Philadelphia, “ Saltarelli notes.  “One day, I drove back to the little service station on City Line Avenue to thank Jack, and to tell him that he was right about everything.  But when I got there, the folks at the station said no one named Jack, and no one who met the description I gave, ever worked there.”  The station’s owner, however, did agree to go to her apartment and tow her old car away for free just as Jack had promised.

         Jack was a mystery to Saltarelli until she saw a fascinating television program about angel encounters that inspired her to learn more about the biblical study of angels.  Over a decade later, when Saltarelli shared the story of her automotive angel with a group of NU students at one of her dorm lectures, a young co-ed interrupted her.  Before Saltarelli could finish describing Jack or his truck, the student excitedly filled in the blanks, adding that she had met the same man.  She said he was a man of color, 50ish with salt- and -pepper hair, and a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit embroidered with the name “Jack.”  The student said she had been driving back to NU on a New York state highway at night during a snowstorm and got stranded on the median.  Jack’s red truck pulled up, and after he said hello to her and she explained she didn’t have much money on her, he said not to worry and he towed her car out.  When she rolled down her window to say thanks, she looked around and he had vanished.  A coincidence?  Saltarelli and the NU student don’t think so.  A man named Jack never worked at the service station in Philadelphia, yet he interceded to help Saltarelli and a frightened NU student, and perhaps countless other motorists in trouble.

         Saltarelli fervently believes Jack was an angel.  And recently, she discovered that a high-school friend shares her belief.  When an article about Saltarelli’s angel lectures and experiences appeared in Niagara University’s “On Campus” newsletter in December 2002, Saltarelli’s brother Michael, shared the article with Saltarelli’s old high-school friend, Jackie.  When Jackie read the story about Jack, she was dumbfounded..

         She told Michael that one dark night in 1989 she was driving through a dangerous neighborhood in Durham, N.C., and ran out of gas.  Her husband was at school at Duke University that evening, and she was all alone and eight months pregnant.  Sitting in her car, she frantically considered what she should do when a red service truck pulled up behind her.  An African-American man with salt-and-pepper hair ran up to her car, knocked on the window, and said, “Did you run out of gas?”  Jackie nodded and noticed that the man wore a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit with the name “Jack embroidered on it.  The man told her to sit tight and keep her windows rolled up.  He left and quickly returned with a can of gas.  Jackie asked the man if she could pay him, thanking him profusely, “No, it’s a blessing from God,” the man said.  He smiled, walked back to his truck, and seemed to mysteriously disappear into the night.

         “My brother wouldn’t ordinarily share an article about me with others,” Saltarelli said.  “The fact that he shared it with someone I’d gone to school with who had also met Jack gives me even more confirmation that my experience with Jack was heaven-sent.  I met Jack in Pennsylvania in 1987.  Jackie encountered him in North Carolina in 1989.  And the college student at NU met him in New York in the late 1990’s.  In each case, he looked the same, had the same truck, and appeared and disappeared very mysteriously.” [spacer height=”20px”]

Robbers at the Door 

Saltarelli also experienced the protection of angels in 1993 when she was working all alone in the basement office of St. Francis Church in Tonawanda.  She was a teacher at Mount Mercy Academy at the time, and coordinator of her parish’s high school confirmation program.  One evening, she decided to catch up on paperwork at the church. “I was the only one downstairs and heard a lot of racket upstairs as I worked.  I thought that the cleaning people were making an extraordinary amount of noise, but wasn’t overly concerned.”  A few minutes later, Saltarelli said she heard a loud noise outside her door and something told her not to go and see what was going on.

         “Then I did the most bizarre thing.” Saltarelli said.  “Still thinking there were only cleaning people in the church, I left the office by another door that led into a tunnel under the school.  I’ve never done that before and haven’t done it since, but something was urging me to get out.”  Hours later, Saltarelli’s pastor called her at home to ask if she had been in the church that afternoon.  He explained that the church had been robbed about 5 p.m., the same time she was there.  The robbers had broken into poor boxes and stole several chalices.  Worse yet, they had left a tire iron by the office door in the basement.  “They were waiting for your to come out.” He said to Saltarelli.  “In fact,” he added, “the police said the vandals broke your door but could not get in.”  Both Saltarelli and her pastor believe angels offered her special protection from a life-threatening situation that fateful evening. [spacer height=”20px”]

And a Child Shall Lead Them 

One of the most profound stories Monica shares at her angel lectures involves her brother’s family.  On Feb. 14, 1996, Monica’s brother, Michael, and his wife, Sue Ann, celebrated the birth of their daughter, Maria.  They were overjoyed with the Valentine’s Day baby, as was their 3 –year-old son, Jesse.  But their happiness turned to unspeakable grief as doctors soon discovered that Maria was not only blind and deaf, she was terminally ill.  For several weeks, Michael and Sue Ann prayed for a miracle.  One day, little Jesse asked his dad if Maria was going to die.  Michael gently explained that he didn’t know and he hoped not, but if she did die, he believed it wouldn’t hurt.  He said she would just go to sleep and Jesus would take care of her.  A few days later, Jesse awoke from a nap and told his father, “ I know the answer about Maria.  She will live forever, but we have to let her go home to heaven first.”  Michael was speechless.  Jesse continued, “I had a dream.  There were bad ghosts trying to get Maria and she was crying, but a pretty lady came with Jesus and said that Maria has to go home to heaven so she can live forever.  I gave Maria to Jesus and the lady said she’d be able to see and hear when she goes to heaven.”

         Saltarelli said her brother was “blown away” by the details in his son’s dream, but he needed to hear the story again.  That evening, Michael asked Jesse to share his dream with his Aunt Monica, and he restated the same story to her, word for word, “without missing a beat.”   Saltarelli says the language Jesse used to describe his dream was so advanced for a 3-year-old that the dream truly had to be heaven-sent.  Maria died a week later, on the first day of spring.  But Jesse’s vivid dream offered a sense of hope for the entire Saltarelli family.  Monica says it was a reminder that heavenly messengers can come to us in dreams, as guiding thoughts to help us in times of trouble, or as lifelike people or pets sent to comfort us in times of need.