My blog for July 23, 2012 was entitled “The Last Nun Standing in Paradise.” It featured Sister Margaret Moore (Maggie), a then 74-year-old Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, who ministered in Paradise, PA in a home and school for troubled boys.
I wrote how Sister Maggie’s congregation had been at that location since 1911–when the place had been an orphanage. Over the past 100 years, 116 Sisters of St. Joseph had served there. Sister Maggie was sent there in 1975. She must have been good at what she did, for her stint lasted 38 years. She was the only Sister still there when I wrote my blog last year. But the other day she emailed me with the sad news: the home for boys in Paradise is closing. Budget cuts. Dedicated and highly qualified people are losing their jobs–including Sister Maggie. A Familiar story. Unfortunately. And the boys who were still there? They have been “relocated” in other places.
Sister Maggie is being relocated too. After 38 years, the last nun standing in Paradise is no longer in Paradise. But guess what? She’s still standing! Only now she’s standing in Pottsville, PA. She’s living with another Sister in a place appropriately named “Phoenix Park.” Phoenix! The mythical bird that rises up from its own ashes! Phoenix: an ancient symbol of our Risen Jesus!
What will Sister Maggie be doing? She’ll be doing more than standing! She will be moving—a lot!—as she serves in a parish. She will be a volunteer there. Her congregation will support her so she can do this ministry. (Many congregations support a significant number of their members so they can volunteer in places not able to afford them.) Sister Maggie’s area of concentration will be visiting the sick. She should be good at that. Three bouts with cancer and several awful surgeries have given her an insiders’ view of illness.
I think the people of Pottsville need someone like Sister Maggie–just as the boys in Paradise needed her. I googled Pottsville and learned it lies in the heart of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. Coal was discovered there in 1790. Considering the current state of the coal industry in this country, I suspect Pottsville has seen better days economically. Sister Maggie is apt to meet people there with all kinds of needs. And, knowing her, she will serve them as she served all those boys for all those years: with warmth, generosity, faith, joy, and a sense of humor.
This change is not easy for Sister Maggie. On the phone the other day, her voice was chipper, but I sensed she was grieving. “What I’m gonna miss,” she said, and then she stopped speaking. I knew she was crying. Finally she spoke, this time through her tears. “I’m gonna miss my boys,” she said. When Sister Maggie made her vows many years ago, she promised she would obey God’s will. But she never promised she wouldn’t cry!
I admire Sister Maggie. She has two qualities I think we all need in life: faithfulness and flexibility. Sister Maggie was faithful. She served in Paradise for 38 years, showing up every day for work, interacting with those boys, working side by side with her colleagues, and facing the daily challenges that her ministry set before her. And she is flexible. She knows it’s time to go now, to let go, to change, to try something new, to be morphed from a teacher/nurse into a pastoral minister. Sister Maggie’s story reminds me that the point in life is not where we serve. It’s whom, how, and why we serve. We serve the specific people God puts into our lives. And we serve them with love and joy. Why? Because in doing so we are loving and serving the God who loved us first! Please say a prayer for Maggie–and for all people who are undergoing serious changes in their lives and are grieving. Pray that, with God’s help, they may keep standing.
Do you show both faithfulness and flexibility in your life? If so, how?
PS: I will be directing a retreat at the Marie Joseph Retreat Center in Biddleford, Maine from August 17-24. They tell me it’s right on the ocean! Please pray for the retreatants–and me! Thank you very much! My blogs will be posted as usual.