I remember, as a little girl, watching “Facts of Life” on television. I always wanted to be one of those really lucky, smart kids who got to go to a boarding school. It seemed so special, almost magical to have that kind of freedom. It’s funny looking back at it now. My older brother actually went to a boarding school, St. Lawrence Seminary, and I visited him quite often as a young child. I saw his boarding school first hand often.
I also saw St. Coletta’s. I was thinking of it today, remembering how I loved to visit St. Coletta’s, how I was really kind of jealous of the people that I met there, how I wanted to live there in that wonderland. I had no idea, as a young child, that the people who I met at St. Coletta’s had severe developmental disabilities. I just thought they were happy and having fun. Maybe they were.
St. Coletta’s is a special place in my memory because of a special woman who left the world this morning. Sr. Phillip was my aunt. She did laundry and care giving for residents of the school.
There are many of us in the world who hold that title “I grew up Catholic.” It seems a lot of us hold an anger about that experience especially about the nuns and priests in our lives. I don’t. I don’t hold the same beliefs I did when I was younger, but I look back at some of the believers who’ve taught and guided me and I am inspired.
Sr. Phillip was one of those. I remember her hands, scarred from years of work. Her smile and twinkling eyes, her walk that really was just like a penguin. Her hips and legs had to have caused her great pain. For the last several years she depended on an oxygen tank. But, she never complained. She was truly happy. So often we’re running from here to there acquiring stuff, seeking accomplishments, trying so hard to be greater than we are and falling short, disappointing ourselves and just being lost.
Sr. Phillip just smiled and laughed and enjoyed the people she was with. She lived over 90 years. I knew her half that time. I don’t remember ever seeing her angry for more than a moment. I think back now and know that she spent decades of her life working and living with individuals facing huge challenges in their lives. She lived with a vow of poverty. She also lived within a loving community, with a faith that meant a great deal to her, as a part of a family that she loved. She had it all.
I thank her for reminding me what’s important.