In the world of 100-year-old Vera Morris-Pleasant there is no generation gap. The cradle Catholic, who has been a member of St. Athanasius Parish in Philadelphia for more than 45 years, interacts with all those from her fellow matured adults and down to Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y and Z, Millennials, and whatever generation the newborns belong to.
Every day when she pulls out her rosary it includes prayers for her entire extended family. In fact, when “Aunt Vera” — what many of her extended clan calls her — was turning 100 the only reason she allowed her nieces and nephews to host a birthday bash was to bring all the generations together. She especially wanted them to join for Sunday Mass.
For her 100th birthday bash, Morris-Pleasant also had several other stipulations. She wanted to begin the festivities on her actual birthday that happened Thursday, Aug. 16 at morning Mass at St. Athanasius Church, located in the city’s West Oak Lane section.
Then when her extended family hosted a birthday brunch at a nearby restaurant, she wanted three things. First, there was to be no slideshow. Second, there were to be no television cameras or major newspaper coverage.
Lastly, as a private person, she wanted little drama revolving around the fact that the cousin of the Temple clan, with whom she lived in North Philadelphia as they were growing up, is Omarosa Manigault Newman’s cousin. She wanted the immediate family of the former White House aide and reality TV participant to enjoy the simple, festive family affair along their other relatives without any undue attention.
In an exclusive interview, Morris-Pleasant said she thanked God for giving her 100 years. She admitted that living a long life has both blessings and drawbacks. Among them: the longer one lives the more of one’s contemporaries are no longer around.
Yet even though she only had one child who did not survive her, she believes she was blessed with many more nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren, along with her church family.
“God has blessed me with my family,” Morris-Pleasant said. “I am interested in what the young people are doing. It’s a blessing to see that so many of them are here. It makes me feel good that they acknowledge me and would prepare and come to something like this for me.
“My advice to all of them is that with God all things are possible. There are so many things happening now that are not good, but faith can pull you through. I have seen and heard much in 100 years, but I know that God has pulled my family through it all. We have been blessed.”
Present at the events was “Aunt Vera’s” oldest niece, 85-year-old Ursula Temple, as well as her six children. Among them are Marq Temple, the executive director of the organization Concerned Black Men; Joey Temple, a local broadcaster and Philadelphia NAACP board member; and Donald M. Temple, an attorney based in Washington, D.C.
The family grew up in a multigenerational household. Their family home was located at 33rd and Clifford Streets in a large Victorian-style brownstone.
“A twist on what they asked about Jesus in the Bible is can anything good come out North Philadelphia?” said Donald M. Temple. “I will say many in this family. We were all encouraged by Aunt Vera. She taught us about discipline, hard work and doing for others.”
Besides the Manigualt family, who are the Temples’ cousins, Donald Temple noted the Patton family and many others who became high ranking officials in the Philadelphia Police and Fire departments. Many are college-educated professionals who are doing well in government posts and corporate jobs in Washington and New York City as well as Philadelphia.
“Aunt Vera inspired us,” said Ursula Temple. “I am the next oldest in line in this family, the firstborn of my (generation). Aunt Vera was always there for me, my kids and their grandkids. She has this die-hard faith of that Philadelphia born and bred, from North Philadelphia. She has been a faithful member of St. Athanasius since she moved up to West Oak Lane about 45 years ago. She was involved in the lives of many. She would always lend a helping hand. So when she turned 100 we had to celebrate all she’s done.”
Ursula Temple’s daughter, Margo Temple-Hennigan, is Morris-Pleasant’s primary caregiver. Helping her grandaunt to take her seat at the catered luncheon, Margo said her aunt is still cherishing the memories of the extended weekend of festivities.
“Aunt Vera was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love,” said Temple-Hennigan. “Originally she was saying that she didn’t want anything special. When she finally agreed, she did say she didn’t want any slideshows or major presentations. Now that it is over she has enjoyed reading all the cards and letters sent to her.
“She is my grandmother’s sister and she was involved in our lives,” Temple-Hennigan said. “She was that special aunt. Since her memory is fine, she was just excited and overwhelmed to see all her family in one place. Family is very important to Aunt Vera, and she (modeled) what a person of faith looks like.”
Perhaps the best way to sum up how “Aunt Vera” influences others is some of her own sage advice.
“It’s time to put away all the (negativity) and be grateful that you have each other,” Morris-Pleasant said. “Otherwise you will get overwhelmed. Celebrate all that God has given you. Love God, your family and loved ones from the bottom of your heart.”
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