NORTH AUGUSTA — People who call or visit the office of Our Lady of Peace Church have been greeted with a kind voice or warm smile from Betty Jo Costello for nearly 24 years. As parish secretary and bookkeeper, she felt it was her vocation to reach out to others in this manner, but this remarkable woman has also been a source of inspiration.
Life and work were made more challenging for Costello because she has only one limb. Undaunted by what is considered a disability, she taught herself to do everything with just her left arm. It took a fall in September 2005 to slow her down. She dislocated her left shoulder, which meant she had to retire early at age 54.
Costello’s service to the parish was remembered at a retirement reception Feb. 26 at Our Lady of Peace. Several hundred people attended to express their appreciation.
At the reception, Father Alexander “Sandy” McDonald, pastor of Our Lady of Peace, said Costello had been a blessing to the parish.
“I sincerely doubt that anyone who was greeted and welcomed by her ever left not feeling graced,” he said. “Betty Jo made us all feel good, and we will miss her very much.”
Costello said the reception was a time for her to let people know how much she cares about them.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “I’ve grown to love them a lot.”
Costello is a member of St. Edward Church in Murphy Village. She said her faith has guided her through life’s challenges.
“My mother and father wanted me to gain independence and to get an education,” said Costello. “They always instilled in me that I was able to do anything I wanted to do. With God’s grace, I have been able to do many things.”
Costello, the youngest of four girls, is a native of Nashville, Tenn. She has lived in Murphy Village for about 40 years.
She has born without three of her limbs. “Disabled” or “handicapped” are terms that do not seem to apply to her, however. She said she taught herself how to swim and ride a horse as a child.
Costello has an associate’s degree in management service. She began working part time for St. Edward Church in the ’70s. In 1982, she started work at Our Lady of Peace as a secretary/bookkeeper. She felt it was her responsibility to meet the people and see to their needs.
“I enjoyed meeting the people,” she said. “I felt like it was a ministry to the people if they had any concerns — that I was the first person who could help them at the parish.”
Costello recalled that she worked through about seven changes of pastors over the years, and appreciated the fact that she met and worked with many different priests.
“There are just so many things a parish is called upon to do,” she said. She often took calls from people with questions about sacraments or wanting a visit with the pastor.
She said she is glad she has been able to work with her handicap. She has been an advocate for the disabled and education, and has garnered a lengthy list of awards and honors over the years. Her awards include: South Carolina Rehabilitation Association Winner of the 1978 Case of the Year; South Carolina Council of Catholic Women Handicapped Woman of the Year in 1981; and Handicapped Professional Woman of the Year in 1984.
Costello served as a school board member for Edgefield County from 1987 to 1990 and as a volunteer over the years at St. Edward. She has also served as coordinator of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and as a kindergarten teacher’s aide at her church.
For a long time, she said, she was even a disc jockey at events held at St. Edward.
“I love being busy,” she said, “and I have been so blessed.”
Nita Swift, the administrative assistant at the church, said parishioners are blessed just having known Costello. Swift met her in 1982.
“She’s just a wonderful, caring person,” Swift said. “You feel her faith just by being around her.”