Holy Ann The Irish Saint
Â“Poor Ann, she can never learn anything! Â”exclaimed the schoolteacher in a despairing way. The small girl had been in the class just one week, but found the ABCÂ’s so difficult to master that the conclusion was reached that effort on such a dull child was utterly wasted. So she was summarily dismissed, to return to her humble Irish cottage, with its thatched roof, in Ballamacally, County Armagh, Ireland. And yet, in mature years, Ann came to be known for wide knowledge of the Bible and a record of answers to her simple prayers of faith that silenced the most faithless and unbelieving caviliers.
Religion was unheeded in the home into which she was born in the year 1810. The six children who came to James Preston and his wife were forced to seek employment as soon as possible and, since Ann could not imbibe even the simplest principles of education, she was hired out for infant caring or cattle herding, for the most part, in families of the God-forgetting. Finally, she was taken into a Christian home, where the mistress was concerned about the spiritual welfare of all who came under her roof. At her invitation, the servant girl attended a Methodist class meeting, where some of the members were weeping because of their sins, while others were praising God for saving grace.
To AnnÂ’s mind, so completely ignorant of anything spiritual, the service was repellent. However, she consented to go to a Methodist service in a private home the following Sunday. The text of the minister was that command of our Savior, Â“Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.Â” That evening, hardly knowing why, she resorted to a small attic room and, kneeling by the only chair there, broke out into loud crying. Her mistress, suspecting the trouble, ascended the stairs with the question, Â“What is the matter, Ann?Â”
Â“I donÂ’t know,Â” was the response. However, it was quickly followed by the confession, Â“Yes, I do. I see the sins I did from the time I was five years old, all written on the chair in front of me, every one. Worse than all, I see Hell open ready to swallow me.Â”
In the great agitation of her soul, now awakened to its true state before God, she retired to her own room where, until midnight, she continued to cry out to Him for mercy. Then, as the question, Â“No mercy, Lord, for me?Â” passed her lips, divine assurance was given her that through the blood of Jesus, her sins were washed away.
She picked up a New Testament lying on the table and, placing her finger on a verse, prayed, Â“Father, You Who has taken away from me this awful burden, couldnÂ’t You help me read one of these little things?Â” And a miracle was wrought! Ann was able to read at least part of the verse, Â“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.Â”
And eventually she, who had been condemned by her childhood teacher to life-long ignorance, was given the ability to read the Word of God. However for reasons known only to our Heavenly Father, He never opened the door of her mind to secular reading matter. One family, for whom Ann worked, refused to believe that such an unusual situation could exist. To test her veracity, they placed a newspaper in front of her, asked her to read a certain paragraph. She made no progress, until the word Â“lordÂ” arrested her attention. Then she exclaimed, Â“It seems to me this word is Â‘lordÂ’, but it canÂ’t be my Lord, for my heart does not burn while I read it.Â” Lord Roberts, who figured prominently in the South African War, was the gentlemen written about.
In the course of time, Ann was employed in the home of a Dr. Reid, whose wife was a Christian. When the family decided to move to Canada, she was invited to accompany them. Much to the grief of her parents, she consented. After a journey of two months, the Reids, with Ann, settled in Thornhill, Ontario, not far from the city of Toronto.
With all the changes, the religious life of the Irish servant girl seemed almost to have come to a standstill, although she still professed to be a Christian. Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, outstanding for her advocacy of the doctrine of holiness, was for a time leader of the class meeting in the Methodist Church at Thornhill. Ann reluctantly yielded to Mrs. ReidÂ’s persuasions to accompany her to the service.
She had been with the Reid family for about ten years, when the wife and mother suddenly passed away. The family of young children was left to AnnÂ’s care, and she was faithful to her trust until they reached maturity and left the home nest.
Neither Dr. Reid nor Ann had attained to any great degree of stability in the Christian life. She, to her sorrow, frequently gave way to violent outbursts of temper when the children tried her patience. Dr. ReidÂ’s inconsistency with the profession of religion he maintained annoyed Ann greatly at times. On occasion, in family prayers, to avoid hearing his voice, she placed her fingers in her ears. Sinning and repenting seemed to be the best she could hope for, until light from God showed her a life completely victorious over sin.
A young Christian visiting Dr. Reid was asked to conduct the regular family evening worship. As he read the 34th Psalm, the sixteenth verse spoke very strongly to Ann. Â“The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.Â” The young man, at her request, turned down the corner of the page upon which the verse was found. Ann went at once to her room, opened the Bible and began to pray that God would show her what it meant. The great enemy of souls whispered, Â“But you canÂ’t read it.Â”
In simple faith she replied, Â“The Lord will give it to me.Â” Again a miracle took place. Ann could read the verse! Continuing in prayer, she asked, Â“What is evil?Â” Then followed such a revelation of the sin of her heart that Ann spent the rest of the night in earnest supplication for deliverance. The power of prevailing prayer was opened up to her and, like Jacob of old at daybreak, in agony of soul and clinging to God, she exclaimed, Â“IÂ’ll die, but IÂ’ll have it.Â” Rising from her knees, she went downstairs where she encountered the young guest who asked the reason for her distress.
Â“I want to be sanctified throughout Â– body, soul and spirit,Â” was her reply. He explained that faith in the promises of God would bring the holiness of heart for which she yearned and quoted the verse, Â“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.Â”
Again, Ann went to her knees, pleading, Â“Lord, I have been knocking all night. Open unto me! Open unto me!Â” And Heaven responded to her persevering prayer. At once her mourning was turned into joy and, for two hours, the little house was one of praise. Indeed, it was never again anything else, as Ann walked with God and was led deeper and deeper into the secrets revealed to those who fear Him.
It was at this time that she became known as Â“Holy AnnÂ”, perhaps first in derision by some of the boys of the neighbourhood. As she realized the true meaning of the name, her prayer was, Â“Father, they are calling me Holy Ann. Please make me holy, so the children will not be telling lies.Â” Her simple petition found an answer in the fragrance of her humble and faithful Christian witness, permeating the lives of all she met. Â“Holy AnnÂ” she became to the generation that knew her, and to succeeding ones as well.
Her answers to prayer were numerous. One of greatest interest is that concerning Dr. ReidÂ’s well which always was dry for several months during the summer. His young sons were carrying water from a distance to supply not only family needs, but those of the stock as well. One day, as Ann was talking to her charges about a prayer-answering God and telling some of her own experiences, Henry Reid said in a bantering manner, Â“Ann, why donÂ’t you ask your Father to send water in that well, and not have us boys work so hard?Â”
The question proved to be a direct challenge to her faith. Alone in her own room, she prayed, Â“Father, You heard what Henry said tonight. If I get up in class-meeting and say, Â‘My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ JesusÂ’, the boys wonÂ’t believe I am what I profess to be, if You donÂ’t send the water in the well.Â” Continuing to pray for some time, she received an assurance that her petition had been heard. With the words upon her lips, Â“Father, if I am what I profess to be, there will be water in the well tomorrow morning,Â” she went to bed and to sound sleep.
The next morning, Henry was preparing for his long walk to draw water for the needs of the day when, to his astonishment, Ann picked up two empty pails and walked to the well that he had remarked was Â“as dry as the kitchen floor.Â” In a few minutes, she returned to the house and the watching, incredulous lad, with the same two filled to the brim with clear water.
Â“What do you say now?Â” was AnnÂ’s triumphant query to the surprised boy who, in turn, could only ask, Â“Why didnÂ’t you do that long ago and save us all that work?Â” Years afterward a friend of AnnÂ’s who knew the truth of the incident, said that from that time the well never was dry again, even in the hottest summer. Who can say that the day of miracles is past?
AnnÂ’s long life of ninety-six years was filled with prayer and praise to God for what He had done for her and was able to do for others. Her declining years were spent in the homes of friends who regarded it an honor to minister to her. The Mayor of Toronto assisted at her funeral. The Sunday after her death he remarked, Â“I have had two honours this week. It has been my privilege to have an interview with the President of the United States. This is a great honour. Then I have been pallbearer to Â‘Holy AnnÂ’Â” (Ann Preston). And with no discredit whatever to President Theodore Roosevelt, he added, Â“Of the two honours, I prize the latter most.Â”