Giving thanks in the midst of senseless tragedy

When I first heard about what happened to Albert Quihuis, 90, and his wife, Sophia, 87, my initial reaction was outrage.

It was two years ago this month that the elderly couple’s home in Phoenix was invaded by two men looking for money to support their drug habit. Lester Dunnings, 23, and Kevin Taubman, 50, were later arrested after a 79-year-old man and another elderly couple in the neighborhood were similarly victimized.

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.
Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

Dunnings and Taubman savagely attacked Albert and Sophia Quihuis when they stormed into their home after first claiming they were having car trouble and needed assistance. The couple was gagged and bound tightly with duct tape, unable to call for help. By the time their caregiver found them 15 hours later, both had suffered heart attacks but were clinging to life.

Al Quihuis, their eldest son, recalled the police photographs of his mother shown to the jury during last month’s trial. Sophia’s face was badly bruised from the ordeal, but Al noticed something more.

“There was just a faint hint of a smile,” Al said. “She was a survivor. She had the will to get through it.”

But it wasn’t to be. On Dec. 24, Sophia succumbed to an infection. Then, as Al was giving the eulogy at his mother’s funeral, the family learned that Albert Sr. had died.

“I never saw any anger in my parents,” Al said. “They never said an unkind word about what was done to them. They never complained.”

His parents’ long life together began when they met at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Phoenix. They married and raised their six children on a rural property near South Mountain. Albert was a World War II veteran and business leader in nearby Tempe, and Sophia was a homemaker who later worked as a secretary. But it was their Catholic faith that defined them.

“They were very involved at Mount Carmel,” Al said. “My dad was in the Holy Name Society, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and was the Grand Knight for the Knights of Columbus.”

Sophia was a founding member of the parish’s sodality and served on the Bishop’s Council. She received the Woman of the Year award from the Phoenix Diocesan Council of Catholic Women in 2001 in recognition for her many years of service to the Catholic community.

One of Al’s earliest memories is of his dad taking a homeless man to a restaurant in downtown Tempe to buy him a meal. “My dad was always helping somebody,” Al said.

Al’s nephew told the story of accompanying his grandfather on a trip to Nogales. “Bring all your change,” he was told, sure that it meant he would be able to buy some kind of treat or toy for himself in the border town. Albert had a different idea, though. The change was to give to the many beggars who inhabit the streets of Nogales.

Food for thought

The Quihuises cherished their faith and family. Although they renewed their wedding vows at earlier anniversaries, they renewed them one last time from their hospital beds, marking 61 years together.

Msgr. Thomas Hever, their former pastor and a close friend of the family since the early 1970s, officiated.

“They were a beautiful couple,” Msgr. Hever said, “They had a great spirit about them, always willing to help, always smiling. It was tragic, what happened to them.”

And yet, he said, they rose above it, a message not lost on their children.

Although Al’s eyes fill with tears when he remembers his parents’ final weeks of life, it is his profound gratitude for his parents’ loving example that shines through.

Throughout the interview, he expressed how thankful he is for all the care the family received from the police, doctors, nurses, lawyers and many other people involved with his parents’ case.

“I feel very blessed that we had so much support,” Al said. “My parents were incredible and I want to celebrate their lives and build their legacy.”

This determination to be thankful, even in the midst of what can only be described as an unspeakable crime, ought to be food for thought for each of us in the coming days as we gather around to feast on turkey and all the trimmings.

May we rise above the wrongs that have been done to us and give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.