On the grounds: Motherhouse missives from Anndavid Naeger SL
Some months after my arrival at the Motherhouse in 2002, Sister Anthony Mary Sartorius, who was the Motherhouse Service Coordinator, asked me to write about the many events which take place here, much like the annals which each convent used to keep. I decided to record the present happenings and end the monthly piece with events from the 1800s. I have not missed an issue since that time in spite of a broken arm, pain and suffering, praise and criticism, too little material, too much, etc. As Sister Cecily Jones often reminded me, “You are writing our history one month at a time.” Of course, the death of a Sister always receives priority each month, but no occurrence is too small or too large to include. I suppose I will continue writing until I am told to stop! To give a taste of the flavor of the publication, I have selected samples.
The fireflies looked like miniature space ships with malfunctioning electrical systems as they drifted around the yard. During the evening, some of them were attracted to and then attached to the electric wiring system which encircled the dog’s enclosure at Nerinckx Farm House. Instead of getting a little mid-flight rest, the little critters were immediately electrocuted but their abdomens still glowed with luminescence with each pulsating of the electric current, which made for an eerie scene in the early morning fog the next day. Several days later a heavy rain finally relieved the wire of its light burden and the fireflies returned to the earth.
The sunlight was purring through the clear windows of the church on a lovely, crisp autumn morning that we had set aside to celebrate the 25th-year anniversary of Betty Kelty’s co-membership. Betty [former postmaster at the Motherhouse post office] has been familiar with the Motherhouse all of her life. She states, “My grandmother was a boarder at the Loretto Motherhouse Academy many years ago. I live about a half mile from here and often attend Mass here. Even before I was married, I can remember as a child many of my uncles, aunts, my parents and grandparents would take part in the Corpus Christi celebrations here.” She thinks that being a co-member has enriched her prayer life and that sharing our gifts with one another helps all of us make better choices in our lives. At the end of our celebration, in her usual after-Mass dance, Sister Mary Luke Tobin paused in front of Betty long enough to take her hand and kiss it. It was a lovely gesture which sums up our gratitude and respect for our postmaster. Betty is often heard to say, “Get your stamps from us; no order is too small or too large. Nerinx Post Office is the best, so help support it!”
One of the five resident ducks chose the side entrance area to Knobs Haven to lay her eggs and to brood over them for five weeks. The duck was tucked under a bush a few inches from the entrance steps and a few inches from the front drive. She sat on her eggs through car and foot traffic, rain, strong winds and even the hammering and sawing that was involved in mending the floor in the kitchen and dining area in that building. Sisters Theresa Louise and Bernadine Wiseman took faithful care in providing fresh water and food every day and were constant in their gentle concern.
The first batch of eggs (12) were destroyed by a cold snap. In the second attempt, three ducklings finally emerged to the great relief of the mother and all the interested watchers. After only a few hours, the mother led her fragile children to the water in Badin Pond. The grass and weeds on the way were sometimes higher than the little ones could manage so there was a lot of tumbling involved in their journey.
Perhaps the mother, even after all of her encouragement and “how to” antics, was not successful in getting her infants into the safety of the water because during the night of their birthday, some creature removed them from this life without a trace. In the days that followed, some of us tried to avoid the front yard because the mother walked the entire area calling for her little ones. In her voice was the anguished tones of all the mothers of all species who have ever suffered such a loss.
A long-time-treasured employee, Cheryl Mattingly’s daughter, Stacy, was married recently to a handsome young fellow at Holy Cross Church. Sister Rose Henry Higdon was asked by Stacy to be the flower girl/lady. Sister said, “When Stacy asked me to be part of her wedding party at my age of 88 3/4, no one had ever heard tell of such a thing, so I thought I better ask our ‘Superior General’ to get some kind of permission. I called Sister Mary Catherine Rabbitt and asked if I could do this and she answered, ‘Go for it and have a good time,’ so I went all out.”
Our amazingly gifted seamstress, Terri Miles, fashioned a very becoming dress and Sister took a “bando,” a curved piece of strong metal that we employed to keep our veils anchored on our head, wrapped a pink ribbon around it and secured some dainty flowers on it here and there “just so.” There was some discord and debate for months whether she could wear a comfortable pair of white tennis shoes with the outfit or if that would be too far from the cutting edge of fashion. In the end, she opted for a regular pair of black shoes.
Sister mused, “I don’t know why Stacy wanted me to be with all of her young friends. We are no kin at all. She either likes me or she is doing good to her enemy.” Stacy’s mom said, “Stacy has always had a great love for Sister Rose Henry and needed her to be part of her most important day.”
Sister Rose Henry had many funny stories about the experience, for example: “Everyone told me that I had on just the right amount of makeup. Truth be told, I didn’t have any makeup on. My blood pressure was up was all.”
Sr. Robert Leona Edelen was in the in-house beauty parlor recently and wanted to pay her bill for services rendered by Joy Medley (pictured with Sr. Jeanne D’Arc Schleicher). Sister searched about on her person but could not find the elusive bills and was getting a little perturbed. Joy said in a calming tone, “Now, Sister, don’t go to heaven with a heart attack over this.” Joy Medley owned a beauty shop in Loretto in the 1960s. When the Sisters changed from their holy habits to ordinary clothes, Sr. Lucille Haywood, who had taught Joy in the third grade, called Joy to see if she could come teach her how to manage her hair, which had been under cover for many years. When Joy came, she found a whole audience of Sisters who wanted the same lesson. She has been coming once a week since then and has missed only two or three days during that whole time. She usually does 17 to 20 sisters every week. She has many, many stories.
Once an elderly client, Sr. Maurice, wanted her hair dyed red and during the procedure, she was having heart attack symptoms. A nurse was called and it was determined that sister needed to be shipped off to the hospital immediately but she refused to go until the job on her hair was complete. She went when she looked presentable and died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Joy mused, “When I first started coming, many of the sisters who had been wearing the habit for years wanted me to fix their hair the way they wore it before they came to the convent, which, of course, would have been way out of style. Some wanted their hair dyed, which I did but over time I gradually talked them back into gray. One of the sisters went from the veil to a wig. I always used to cut her hair but one day she asked for a permanent. I was all excited because I had been trying to get her out of the wig for a long time because she really had nice hair. So, I took a long time giving her a cut and perm and she really looked nice. She looked at herself in the mirror and said, ‘Well, you really did a fine job and it makes me feel good.’ Then, if you can believe it, she opened her little wig bag and plopped that thing right over the new perm and went off as happy as could be.”
“Some sisters come in and say, ‘Joy, I just want a trim because I’m hard up for cash just now.’ I give them the regular cut anyway. Sr. Florentine Greenwell, who had spent some time in a concentration camp while missioned in China was my overseer in my early days here. She made sure that the sisters were on time for their appointment and that they paid me. No excuse was accepted for tardiness or non-payment.
“I love coming here. I have always loved being around the elderly because they are so wise and have such wonderful stories but you have to be patient and take the time to listen because old tales cannot be rushed along. You just have to take slow time and nurture with them. My sisters tell me that I’m a mere baby, next to their age. I had my whole education from the Sisters of Loretto. I had good, gentle teachers and we had a lovely time. I have been blessed in my life and I just hope I will have someone to do my hair when I reach the age of most of my clients.”