95-year-old woman honors father by becoming Catholic

Father Gregory Pilcher, OSB, baptizes Meg Hilliker during the Easter Vigil April 3 at Holy Redeemer Church while her sponsor, Lester LaRoux, watches.
Father Gregory Pilcher, OSB, baptizes Meg Hilliker during the Easter Vigil April 3 at Holy Redeemer Church while her sponsor, Lester LaRoux, watches.

EL DORADO — Recent convert Meg Hilliker, 95, of Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado, wants the public to know one thing: she is not “a freak.”
True, she was confirmed and baptized at an age when many people are mapping out plans for their burial. As for Hilliker, she has set a goal to live just past 96, in order to break a family record. But the feisty, blue-eyed parishioner is not exactly a novice when it comes to living the Gospel of Christ.
Hilliker’s father, Frank Mullins, was Catholic, while her mother, Frances Mullins, was Baptist. A Catholic priest married her parents, though not in a Catholic church. In the seventh grade, she even went to a Catholic boarding school in Alexandria, La., but when funding ran out she returned to her parent’s farm in south Arkansas.
A couple of years ago, at a Union County Genealogy Society meeting in El Dorado, she made acquaintances with Father Gregory Pilcher, OSB, pastor of Holy Re deemer Church. As their friendship grew, Hilliker eventually discerned that the best way to honor her late father’s memory would be through her own initiation into the faith. It was the ultimate show of gratitude for his hard work and for the impact he had on her life.
Every Friday morning for a year, Hilliker worked her way through the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” under the pastor’s tutelage. Long-time parishioners Claudia and Lester Leroux provide Hilliker transportation to 8 a.m. Mass every Sunday.
Hilliker, the oldest of five, came very close to being baptized as an infant, but the event was postponed when the priest was called away to tend to a young parishioner who was badly burned and later died. Hilliker’s father, in deference to Hilliker’s mother’s religious beliefs about infant baptism, agreed not to have the priest baptize Hilliker.
Instead, Hilliker was baptized at First Baptist Church in El Dorado when she was 12 years old. (The records on her previous baptism could not be located, so that necessitated her baptism during the Easter Vigil Mass April 3.)
After her parent’s home in Winnfield, La., burned in 1923, the family packed a wagon with what remained of their household goods, hitched it to a horse and moved to south Arkansas during the oil boom. When the boom went bust, Hilliker’s father turned to farming.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College in Conway, and eventually a master’s degree in education from Roosevelt University in Chicago, working by day and attending school by night. Hilliker served during World War II as a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later renamed Women’s Army Corps or WAC). While most women served stateside others, including Hilliker, served overseas. As her father’s health worsened she returned home.
Hilliker still remembers his kind words to her and his recognition of her ability to take care of herself financially. “You’ve done well for yourself, Meg. You probably always will,” he said.
Sure enough, Hilliker made a living working for various subsidiaries of Standard Oil of Indiana, including PanAm South in New Orleans. She retired after 26 years while working for American Oil in Chicago. When she was 66, she married for the first time to William P. Hilliker and they settled in Mississippi for the next 15 years.
After her husband died, Hilliker returned to Union County in 1995 to be closer to family because of her health challenges. Though she has numerous fractures in her small frame, she still lives on her own and gets around with help from a live-in friend. She surrounds herself with her books and knick-knacks and maintains contact with the many friends she has met through the years, both old and new. Father Gregory, as he prefers to be called, is one of them.
“He is a bright spot in my old age,” she said. “He respects me for who I am, and I respect him. We both learn a lot from each other.”
Throughout her life, Hilliker attended Mass every time there was a fifth Sunday in the month, and the rest of the time she participated in Baptist services. Now she plans to reverse that trend and primarily attend Holy Redeemer, while occasionally revisiting her Baptist roots.
“I saw Mrs. Hilliker every fifth Sunday at Mass and got to know her fairly well through the Genealogical Society meetings,” Father Pilcher said. “So when she inquired about becoming a Catholic, of course, I immediately said yes, I would be glad to help her with the process … She is a very interesting woman with a lifetime of experiences to share.”

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