One of the really tough things about belonging to an extended family is learning that someone has a terminal illness when you aren't in a position to ever see them again. That's what happened with Sr. Mary Caroline. I saw her last in mid-December, never realizing that this would also be the last time I saw her in this life. Yesterday, her 60th anniversary of first vows, the Lord came to bring her to share the Paschal Triduum from a new and definitive vantage point. We had only learned recently that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (In December, she looked great for her 83+ years.)
Sister Mary Caroline was a New York girl, and had no intention at all of entering religious life, but somehow...this most unlikely of candidates found herself mysteriously drawn to the Daughters of St. Paul. By the time I met her, in the first days of my postulancy, she was a fixture in our Boston community. She served as the "mother of the bindery" and the savior of many vocations. Mine may have been one of them, on my very first day at the publishing house's three-knife cutter. As a newbie, I was given the easiest of tasks: to catch the freshly trimmed books as the conveyor belt shot them toward me. Then I was to stack the books in a pattern on a pallet, forming a sturdy tower of Grade 4 religion books that could be transported by forklift into the stockrooms. (This was the machine that completed the production process for a paperback book.) I can still see where the machine was positioned in the basement level of the "Divine Master" building. (Now there are shelves of copy paper.) The more experienced postulant took the books, two or three at a time, from the hamper. They had been through the "paperbacker" and gotten their covers glued in place, but the pages still had folded edges and the cover was untrimmed. They were put on the conveyor belt, and then SWOOSH, BANG! KABOOM! and SWOOSH, they shot out toward me. SWOOSH, BANG! KABOOM! SWOOSH!SWOOSH, BANG! KABOOM! SWOOSH! SWOOSH, BANG! KABOOM! SWOOSH! Pretty soon I had my first migraine, and Sr. Caroline came over to rescue me, leading me to the quieter shipping department where someone sat me down at a desk and showed me how to do the simple accounting procedures we had in those days before computers. Then dear Sr. Caroline told Sr. Margaret Charles (who was then still "pre-postulant Margaret," and whom I knew as "Peggy" from my old high school): "Your little friend couldn't take the noise!"
God bless the dear soul. She remained in the Boston community throughout these 33 years of my religious life, so every time I would go to Boston, I would see her. She taught new entrants how to run machines that they would soon be responsible for, led vocal prayers over the din of the many motors, and often commented, "Patience and much mercy!" In her later years, she switched from heavy machines to computers, and helped maintain the marketing department's mailing list, send out review copies of new publications, and did other light work.
She was especially devoted to St. Joseph, so it is touching that it was on his "day" (even if not, this year, his liturgical feast) that she was called to heaven. We even had a "hint" that this would be the case because yesterday morning we received an unexpected donation of grocery items, a little sign of the Divine Providence that is St. Joseph's special area. Almost as if to say, "Watch St. Joseph; he is visiting your community today."
Sr. Caroline, may you rest in great peace! As you used to say, "Let us work! In heaven we shall rest!"