My late mother was a devout Catholic for all of her 87 years and she raised her five children accordingly.
Like many of us, I remember her words almost to the point that it seems I remember everything she said. I do not, of course, and she would probably say she was surprised I was listening at all.
I remember some of the things that mattered most to her. She told us, for example, if you enter a church for the first time, you get to make three wishes. I’m not sure if the belief is rooted in anything other than lore in an Irish Catholic family, but I prayerfully make those wishes every time. My wishes are almost always the same and so far, so good.
I’ve hit the jackpot working in this role, as it seems I’m entering a new-to-me church every other day.
I have other remembrances as well, like the prayer we would say together – the Memorare. Some would call it old-fashioned. Others wouldn’t know it at all. Mom taught it to me and we recited it together mostly as my father was gravely ill. She said it helped her get through her own health scare – brain surgery – as she repeated it over and over only a few years earlier.
Among the other beliefs she shared was a commitment to Catholic education. While it wasn’t an equivalent financial commitment in her child-rearing days, she would have spent her last nickel to send us to Catholic schools and she just about did. I was fortunate to marry a woman who shared with me the same commitment for our children.
A lot of this came rushing back late last month as I spent time speaking with two religious sisters with a combined 100 years in Catholic education — Sisters LaVerne King and Rosalie Pronsati, RSM. The names of these Sisters of Mercy caught my eye because I spent nine years as a pupil under the sisters in that religious order. Mom spent at least 12 years with the Mercys. As luck would have it, the same Mercy nun in the same school in the mid-1970s taught me as well as Mom in the mid-1930s. At the time, I was convinced Sister Marie Louise had to be just shy of 100 years old. That turns out to be a little off, but you get my point. What are the odds?
I have to admit the recent visit with the sisters was somewhat selfish on my part. These two religious women have served 50 years apiece in Catholic schools and point out that theirs is not the largest order of sisters. Most of them know one another. That means they knew the “old nuns” I remember from 45 years ago as well as the “young nuns.” I’m a sucker for Memory Lane.
As expected, I was drawn in to the conversation not only by the connection to my youth, but the conversation about why people send their children to Catholic schools and what happens as the sisters become fewer and fewer in number.
“Parents choose (Catholic) schools … because they want their children to be part of that mission,” Sister LaVerne said.
Sister Rosalie is comfortable that qualified lay people will continue where the nuns leave off. “It will continue with dedicated laypeople who are probably the children we are teaching now,” she said.
So why am I getting into all of this now? It’s not Mother’s Day. It’s not Catholic Schools Week.
I stumbled upon the fact that last week was National Catholic Sisters Week, the fifth annual celebration of women religious that takes place during National Women’s History Month. Who knew? And, of course, who is more deserving of thanks and recognition?
Sister Miriam de Lourdes, Sister Sebastian, Sister Marie Louise, Sister Frances Clare, Sister Christine, Sister Suzanne, (non-Mercys) Sister Jean, Sister Barbara, too many to name among the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many, many more.
To those sisters and every other, thank you for being you.
Joseph P. Owens is editor and general manager of The Dialog.