Monday, March 27, 2017

A Second Visit from Sister Death

We were in kitchen doing the supper dishes when Sister Mary Peter came in. "Sister Mary Antoinette just died. Sister Noel and Sister Donna were with her."

This second death in the community this year was pretty much a surprise. Sister had been declining this past week and we knew that there was a possibility that the Lord would come for her relatively soon. That he would come "immediately" had not really been considered. In a way, her surprising departure for eternity was like her unexpected "elopement" for the convent. At least, this is the way I heard about it: unable to secure a full parental blessing to follow her vocation, she up and left as soon as she was of age. It was a bold move, leaving her large, close-knit Italian family like that. And, tough New Yorker that she was, she continued to make bold moves throughout her life.

When I was stationed with her here in the 90's, there was a car (named for her beloved patron saint, St Anthony) reserved for her exclusive use. Nobody else, not even the superior, had her own car. Sister Mary Antoinette was the ultimate errand-runner. She found donations of every kind of material good for us, including elaborate cakes for Profession and Jubilee celebrations. She not only did all the airport runs for the sisters, she ran a Pauline travel agency in the days before the Internet made plane tickets a cinch to buy. Airline staff at Boston Logan knew Sister Mary Antoinette by name, and bent over backwards to accommodate her requests. Once when I was waiting to board a flight to New Orleans, an Eastern Airlines agent came to me. "How is Sister Mary Antoinette?" he asked, and then he slipped me a First Class upgrade (my only experience of First Class travel!). Skycaps would run to help us with our bags, refusing our crinkled dollars: "Sister Mary Antoinette takes care of it with her prayers," they would say.

Handling plane tickets was only one part of the Sister Mary Antoinette Travel Agency. She had a side job at her own Visa and Immigration Services. When I was preparing to go to Italy for a two-year stint and needed a special Visa, Sister Mary Antoinette made all the necessary calls. They were waiting for me at the Italian consulate with everything required for my stay. When sisters (or Pauline priests) from other nations needed to come to the United States for ministry or study, Sister Mary Antoinette handled every last bit of red tape. As her memory began to fade (at this point, taking her many passwords with it), it was a scramble to gather and organize all the information Sister Mary Antoinette had juggled in her once-razor sharp brain.

Sister Mary Antoinette had a heart for women in discernment, and was the first Daughter of St Paul that several of our sisters met, including Sister Donna (in photo), one of the sisters with her at the end. When the nurses were obliged to ask Sister M Antoinette to endure something she really preferred to avoid, often all the superior had to do was suggest, "Offer it up for vocations," and she would surrender. (I am entrusting to her intercession the young women who will participate in our annual Holy Week Discernment Retreat.)

In her declining years, Sister Mary Antoinette remained fairly mobile, thanks to her trusty walker. Sadly, she was often profoundly confused, and might be found in the walk-in refrigerator at night "looking for breakfast," or heading to a dark chapel at 2 a.m. believing she was missing Mass. Over the past month, we were able to get more continuous support for her, and in recent weeks she was much more "present" to the sisters or to the reality around her. In the last few days, she expressed much contentment, affection and grateful love. (She was always effusive with her "Thank you, God bless you!" for the smallest favors.) She kissed the hands of the sisters who visited her, while grasping her crucifix with all her might.

Not knowing what was to come, sisters stayed with Sister Mary Antoinette all day yesterday until finally the Lord himself freed her from the limitations of age and illness to introduce her into the life that awaits us all. She was 93 years old, and a vowed religious for 69 years. May she rest in peace!

11 comments:

Rae Stabosz said...

Thank you for this lovely tribute to Sr. Mary Antoinette. I only met her as one of the older sisters. Your article brings her to me in the vigor of her health. I'm sure I would have liked to know her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God rest in peace. Well-deserved peace, and a return to full alertness.

Louise H said...

Our Hunt family knows Sr. Antoinette very well. She was the Sister who asked our 12 year-old daughter if she ever thought of being a Sister. Then, she asked for our girl's address so that she could write to her and send information on the Daughters of St. Paul. From there it is history. Our daughter is Sr. Marie James Hunt who entered the Congregation nearly 33 years ago.

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP said...

You captured t. M. Antoniette well!

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories memories of Sr Antoinette as the travel expert for postulants traveling home to see family. She always found great flights and bargain deals. I'll always remember her smile. May she rest in peace. My / condolences to all of the Pauline Family.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

I left out one really good story. ... It was when I heard how nuns curse. Sr Antoinette was really upset that no one would pour her a second cup of coffee (we had all been warned quite sternly by the nurses about this). She looked around at us, and then at the sister who had nervously said "no" to her request, and then threatened darkly, "I hope you go to Heaven!!!"

Stormy Lntz said...

God Bless dearest Sr. Antoinette and thank you dear Sr. Anne for this beautiful story about her! May God Bless all the Pauline Family!!

Alice said...

I knew Sr Antoinette well! She cut the airplane tickets for Sr Mary Elizabeth to fly home for visits for many years. She had a magical way of securing them. God bless her and may she have angel wings to surround her flight back home. ❤️

Diana de Avila said...

I remember Sr. Antoinette as the go-to sister who knew her logistics. Wonderfully gifted with an ability to organize and work her magic with the grace of God. I imagine she is busy in Heaven helping out with travel. Sending prayer for her and all of the FSP's.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful tribute to Sister Antoinette. I read this a day and a half after learning of my sister-in-law's passing at the age of 62 following a long illness. Hers was a difficult and prolonged suffering patiently endured. Last Sunday's Gospel reading of the raising of Lazarus all the more painful as we knew there would be no second chance at life for our family member but your affirmation of our Lord's charity and of what awaits those who die in faith has been a great comfort to me this morning. May all who grieve be similarly reminded that Christ has broken the chains of death and that we will once again embrace our departed loved ones in heaven. Thank you, Sister Ann, and thank you Jesus for your sacrifice!- Jean in Calgary

Claire Louise said...

What a beautiful tribute to a much loved soul. I know who I'll be praying to when flying!

girl girl said...

Absolutely beautuful to read of this amazing woman surrounded by so much appreciation. God Bless you all and please keep the Vargas family of upstate NY in your prayers as we await the return of our Dad awaiting approval to return to love his family