Sheila Munafo-Kanoza,
nominated by Women of Excellence

By: Celia Tice

“Sheila, it feels like someone reached in my chest and pulled my heart out… I pray every night for God to take me but He isn’t taking me, so I must have a purpose…” These were the words spoken to 3-year-old Sheila Munafo-Kanoza by her grandmother following her grandfather’s death. As a child, she could not begin to understand the meaning behind these words nor predict the impact they would have on her life, nearly 3 decades after they were spoken.

Bereaved: (adj.) Deprived or robbed; taken away by force.

As a child, Sheila had an unexplainable and unrelenting fear of death — not her own, but those close to her. How could she possibly handle the death of a parent?  How could she survive without those pivotal figures in her life?

Years later, after a 10-year battle with cancer, her husband Vince passed away, leaving her broken and lost, and her 3 children fatherless.  “I didn’t know how we were going to live through the pain. I wanted to die… not in the sense that I was suicidal, but I just couldn’t imagine living through this.”

Then, she realized her own anxiety had become her children’s reality.  They’d lost their father, a pivotal figure in their life. “If I felt that way as a child, my children had to be wounded and vulnerable. What could I do to build them up, support them, and help them grieve?”

For years, she had worked in sales; however, after her husband’s death, she took 12 weeks off and, thinking of her grandmother’s words, began to seek a new purpose.

“The Lord gave me a vision — a bereavement center where children, families, and adults could find hope, strength, and healing. Bereaved means to be robbed — and I truly felt that my children and I were robbed.”

Sheila began to realize the amount of children whose grief flew under the radar. As a child, without a proper support system, how could you possibly begin to understand, to cope, to move forward?  How many people were thrown into crippling loss and unable to find peace?

In 1997, Sheila began Companions on a Journey (COJ), a ministry at St. Maximillian Kolbe Parish that offered a support group to people struggling with all aspects of grief.  With a lot of hard work, faith, and many full hearts, COJ continued to grow to become what is it today ¬— a faith-based nonprofit that serves people of all ages in all aspects of grief in West Chester & Liberty Townships and the Tri-State area.

“She understands that grief is not a 9-to-5 job, and she serves the community with her boundless energy and open heart,” says Ann Marie Kahwaty-Bogan, a close friend.  “Sheila ALWAYS goes the extra mile.”

In 1995, Sheila married Tom, a widower, and together they raised 5 wonderful children. They continue to impact thousands of bereaved individuals.

“I never thought that life would be so full.  It’s not just a sole journey, it’s a soul journey.”

For more information on Sheila’s work and COJ, visit
www.companionsonajourney.org

pointer-dingyIf you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

“That we would live in peace and everyone would share love unconditionally.”

pointer-dingyWhat is the most important piece of advice you would share with a young woman growing up today?

“I would say begin every day by looking in the mirror and see that you are a beautiful creation of God’s love.  Jesus said the greatest gift is love.  Become your own best freind love yourself.”

pointer-dingyWhat women influenced you the most either past or present?

“Mary, the blessed mother, became my mentor.  She was widowed, watched her child die on a cross, and prayed with the apostles.  My great grandmother, grandmother, and mother.  I am surrounded by great and very blessed women.”

pointer-dingyWhat’s your favorite quote?

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” ~  Matthew 7:7

 

 

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