Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Keeping Vigil with "Love"

Her name really is Love: Sister Charitas. A missionary for over 50 years, fluent in three languages, she is engaged in the most intense mission activity of her life, speaking a language that few of us learn on this earth: the language of a long, involuntary silence (particularly purgatorial for a sociable character like hers!).

Sister Charitas on her 75th birthday, with her sister and brothers.
Sister Charitas grew up in Sicily, with a character as strong and determined as her family name: Forte! That quality helped her when she found herself caring for her numerous younger siblings after the death of their mother. Only a teenager herself, she became a real mother to the youngest of them, but still found the strength to follow a vocation that took her far from home. As a young sister, she was sent to our newly founded community in Canada as a pioneer of the Pauline mission in a bi-lingual country. Several members of her family also relocated to Toronto where there is still a very close-knit Italian community.

On the floor in the St Louis bookstore!
In the mid-1980's, the Superior General of the Daughters of St Paul asked the Canadian community to focus on ministry in French-speaking Canada, and entrusted the Toronto bookstore and community (along with the rest of Canada) to the sisters of the United States province. At this point, Sister Charitas became part of the (newly baptized) United States-English Speaking Canada province of the Daughters of St Paul. She remained in Toronto for quite some time, helping the new administration understand the complexities of the system there and introducing the sisters to the many collaborators of the Pauline mission. In time, she was transferred to other communities, most notably St Louis, where she continued doing customer service but also helped welcome the new postulants; still, she was happy to be recalled to Toronto and her family connections.

Sr Charitas loves LIFE!
Several years ago, serious health concerns advised a transfer to the infirmary community where Sister Charitas could get extra support and care, but, true to her name, she insisted she was strong enough to handle things where she was. Until she wasn't. Parkinsons-like symptoms progressed with an incredible rapidity, but Sister Charitas refused to surrender to them. Sometimes she could only communicate with her eyes, but it was very clear what she wanted to say. "Posso: I can do it. Let me try." She hated the wheelchair and its footrest, always finding a way to get her feet comfortably on the ground as one of the sisters took her on a "walk" through our offices. I would pop out to bless her with one of the relics from my office shrine (usually St Therese). Now I bring the relic to her room, where we (and her brother and sister) take turns day and night to keep company with her.

We don't know how long her legendary strength will sustain her life on this earth. Certainly, every second that remains is precious to the Lord and to us. We are convinced that right now, no one is carrying out a more effective media ministry or offering a greater reparation for the misuse of communications technology than the little lady named "love" in our infirmary wing.

No comments: