Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Inspiration

Yesterday I decided to take a drive out to Hamburg to the Mother House of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. I felt a visit to my esteemed 4th grade teacher, Sr. Symphronia, was long over due. Sister and I have stayed friends all these years since I was in her class, and have corresponded mostly through letters. I kept saying I was going to drive out and see her, so yesterday I decided to call her up and go.

When I arrived at the Mother House, an aid from the hospital wing where Sister now lives came down to get me (since it's been at least two years since I was last out there, and didn't remember my way). She told me that Sister had been sitting in her doorway (in a wheelchair) waiting for me to arrive... her "former pupil". One of the nurses asked if she wanted to go outside for some fresh air, and Sister promptly told her, "No, I have a date coming to see me.". "Just to give you a heads up", the aid informed me, "she is hoping you'll take her for a walk outside in the wheel chair". That was fine with me.

There she sat, waiting for me. Except for the wheel chair, she looks the same to me as she did back in 1991-1992 when she taught me. She is now celebrating her 67th year in Religious Life, and was in the classroom for 50+ of those years.

She asked if I would take her outside to the grotto of the Blessed Mother, where they have a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, so we could sit, pray and talk. I was more than happy to enjoy the nice afternoon outside, so I told the nurses I was stealing her for a little bit. As we walked past some other nurses and sisters, she made sure to show me off to all passers-by.

We had a great talk, and it was a wonderful treat for me to catch up with her face to face instead of in a letter. She was very interested to hear about my teaching experience, and shared in my eager hopes and prayers to get a job. I also got to learn more about her career as a teacher, learning for the first time that she had been a principal (I'm assuming in the early 60's) at the Church and School where she grew up in Buffalo, Corpus Christi. She had 12 nuns under her as superior of the School and Convent. Laughing, she told me some of the nuns were much older and ready to retire, having "given their best years already in their youth". They used to go into her office to nap, and she (the then principal) would cover their classes! She was always so kind hearted.

She is very happy in her retirement, though wishes she was in better health to be able to physically do more for her community. Because of her health, her motion and energy are limited, but she likes to keep the other sisters company, and she prays... a LOT... for her sisters, her former "pupils" and for the world. I never saw someone so content to be in such constant prayer. I told her that her prayerful contribution was a great gift to the world, and never to think for a second she isn't "doing something" worth wild!

She had a small package to give me... and I had totally forgotten about Sister's gifts. She doesn't have much of her own, but what she has.. she gives. She had a small brown bag with some pens and pencils in it, some sugar free chocolate (she is diabetic), and a small plastic statue of St. Francis. She told me to use whatever I could (figuring a teacher could always use more pens and pencils!), and anything I didn't need or want to "you know what to do".. her code for "throw it away". She was always like that. "Here, you like it? Keep it!". She has so little, and yet gives so much.

It was great to spend the hour and a half with her, and perhaps I will go to see her again in October when the leaves change. She will be celebrating a birthday on September 1st. She never would tell me (or anyone) how old she is. Guessing by the number of years she has been a nun, I'm guess 85, if those 67 years start when she first entered... maybe closer to 90 if they only count the years since their final vows.

Regardless of her age, her face still radiates love and kindness. She was one of the strongest inspirations in my life for wanting to be a teacher. She is the exact opposite of all the mean, hurtful nun jokes and stereotypes. To me, she has always been the personification of the motto of her order's founder, Mother Hilbert: "In all things, charity."

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