Death of a Nun

Sister Dominica died on Friday. My first thought: she’s FREE ! She’d been shrinking and suffering living attached to a loud machine that provided oxygen for her. The last time I went to see her she was too exhausted to take the Eucharist. Of course this meant something: she always had the reserved sacrament with her and had been known to say in a moment of peeve to a visitor who didn’t bring communion, “Well then, what are you doing here?”

But now she’s free and we put on a beautiful party for her. We arranged the chapel for her body with  Paschal Candle and long sprays of deep green leafy forsythia branches and white mock-orange. Bill took out all the prayer benches to make room for more chairs. Sister CG made a tribute place with a scarf, Sister Dominica’s glasses, her pix, her thick books of intercession lists, and her ever present, necessary Kleenex.

When the body arrived, the council sisters (once a task performed by the Mother Superior) washed the body and dressed the sister in her habit and her CHS Profession Cross, and placed a prayerbook in her hand. Sister Dominica’s body stayed in our little chapel overnight and sisters kept vigil.

All the sisters from the city convent came for the simple, elegant burial office. After singing the In Paradisum, the tiny coffin was brought out to the patio, and each sister asperged the box. Some water from the Jordan River had been added. The hearse took away her body for cremation.

Then we sat down to a hearty farm dinner with lots of reminiscing, laughter, and delighting in one another.

Sister Dominica often complained that she didn’t know how to pray. And yet, people gave her concerns which she dutifully scrawled into those heavy notebooks. Each of us witnessed her faithfulness to those remembrances many of which she also passed on to us so that we would also pray. She was known for her ministry of prayer in the nearby medical facility in which she lived.     

Who does know how to pray? Even Paul wondered. But he had a solution. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27

The Solemn Eucharist and Burial for Sister Dominica will take place some time in the summer. Before the hearse took away her tiny body, the sisters removed her cross and ring. I thought: Another woman living a life someplace else at this very moment unaware of this community perhaps, or of her own latent vocation, will find herself drawn eventually through the subtle and labyrinthine power of the Spirit to monastic life with these particular sisters.  She will wear that ring. As Elisha cried to Elijah, may she inherit a double portion of that Spirit of prayer.

2 Responses to “Death of a Nun”

  1. Jane Coles 32 yr. Assoc. Says:

    I had recently found out about the Sisters’ website and felt almost compelled to reach it again today. When I saw your name, I remembered the glorious Saturday 2 years – 3 Mays – ago when my son drove me to Melrose for a 5-hour “homecoming” for me after years of Associates’ retreats. You were away, but I met your husband, had a tour with Sr. Emmanuel, noontime prayers and lunch with them.
    Sr. Dominica was a loving “fixture” in the chapel trailing her oxygen supply “tail”….. She wrote me several years ago now to say she missed my husband and me and would like to hear from me. (She was in the nursing home by then.) I’ve been writing ever since, cards and short notes off and on, and receiving painfully written notes in return – but not recently. I’m so glad I read about her passing and the beautiful way the Sisters took care of her. Her life goes on without the pain as her memory lives on in those who knew her. Alleluia.

  2. Tony Burkart Says:


    Re: your latest epistle: I love the one liner by Dylan Thomas in his “Farewell To Fig”…..”The principle task of love in this world is to unbolt the dark and release its prisoners of shame!”.

    Blessings, Tony Burkart, Franklin, Me.

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