Last month I stopped at Camilla Hall, the health care and retirement home for Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to visit one of our directors of religious education who is recuperating from surgery.
Camilla always strikes me as a step into the past, a “Brigadoon” if you will. Nuns in full-length aprons dart about their charges; “retro” furniture in the parlors looks as good as the day it arrived; and vintage wall school bells still ring to signal a change in schedule.
As I waited for the elevator to arrive, an elderly sister with an arm full of greeting cards joined me. I started the small talk. “Getting your Christmas cards done, Sister?” With a shake of her head she answered, “Oh, no, Honey! These are not my cards. I am helping some of the ‘dears’ (sisters) who just can’t write out their cards anymore. I visit with them, put a note inside and address them. I’ll get to my cards soon.”
The door opened and we smiled at each other as we parted ways.
“I wondered as I wandered” to my destination regarding Sister’s apostolate of card writing. My musing continued as I passed each room with a posting of the retired sister’s name and services.
Quick math calculated over a century of charity which enveloped me. It hit me that to my left, my right, above, below, behind and in front of me were good and faithful servants whose mission was not quite finished. Some serve actively; others with limitations, contemplatively; all prayerfully journeying to their final destination and praying for others along the way.
St. Teresa of Avila reminded us that all things are passing; God never changes. Thanks to my elevator buddy, my observation of long aprons, dated décor and antique bells has passed. Rather God, Emmanuel, permeates this holy place and powerhouse of prayer — yesterday, today and tomorrow.
As we enter a new year, our Holy Father has proclaimed a Year of Consecrated Life. Its focus is to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past while embracing the future with hope.”
Camilla Hall is just one example among many that houses men and women religious who are courageous witnesses of the faith. Let us remember to give thanks for them and pray for more vocations to enrich the salvific mission of the Church.
Ann Menna is deputy secretary for catechetical formation for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.