Almost all of us know what a faithful and interesting letter-writer Sister Cabrini was! You may also be aware that in addition to writing letters, she had a penchant for holding on to ones she had received. I told Sister Marilyn Roman that she will have a treasure trove for the archives as she reviews letters Sister has saved through the years.
Here is one important one: It is dated: November 4, 1948, St. Marys Convent, Nauvoo, IL and addressed to Miss Susan Rael, 902 North Edith, Albuquerque, New Mexico. In it Mother Ricarda writes “We will be very happy to have you join the ranks of Nauvoo Benedictines, and we hope that you will find the peace and happiness you so much desire here in God’s service. A vocation is a beautiful gift of God and at the same time a wonderful challenge to our courage and generosity. May He bless your acceptance and offering.”
And so it was that just one month later Susan traveled to Nauvoo to join the 10 postulants who had preceded her.
Susan was no stranger to the Sisters as she had attended St. Mary’s Academy as a high school girl. She was born to Francisco Rael and Susie Page on April 25, 1928 in Puerto de Luna, New Mexico, the third of seven children. Her younger sister, Lindy, later followed her to religious life. Though Sister Cabrini settled a great distance from her homeland, her roots and love of family, the Southwest, and her Native-American heritage were always strikingly apparent. They shaped her surroundings, her prayer, her interests, her life! They are just one of the many unique gifts she shared with us in community.
Certainly, through all of her life we knew Sister Cabrini as a woman of integrity and a free spirit! She knew where she stood and she expressed herself clearly—in word and action. Thus, she continued to wear the habit years after most of us had let it go. She spoke up at community meetings…and her observations were often unpredictable. This ‘free-spirit’ came through even in her directives for her funeral. For the celebrant at the Eucharist she suggests: “perhaps by then– an ordained woman!”
Sister, you left us too soon to accomplish that wish!
At Lauds this morning we sang “For The Beauty of the Earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies.” How appropriate a hymn to sing as we hold Sister so close to our hearts.
Cabrini saw beauty everywhere: in a rock, a geode, a piece of wood, a flower, a sunrise, a rosary needing repair, a friend’s face, a letter received from a sister. And she called this beauty she saw to our attention.
How her students must have been blessed by this contemplative awareness she shared with them. One newspaper story she saved reflects this: an article from the Monmouth news in 1986 shows her with her second-grade class displaying chili pepper plants they grew as a class project. The plants were started in September so that they would be ready to appear under Christmas trees as presents to the parents.
Sister taught primary grades in our schools almost constantly beginning in 1950 until returning to Nauvoo in 1993.
We continued in our hymn this morning, “For the beauty of each hour, of the day and of the night….”
I was reminded of another gift of Cabrini: she lived in the present moment and found countless opportunities, day and night, to share herself with others. This might come through a letter to a family member or her simple comforting presence on duty as night nurse or peeling grapefruit to share with others.
Before I went on a road trip, Sister Cabrini would provide a little care-package of nuts, fruit, and candies. The loving care and attention Cabrini showed Sr. Augustine through the years is another expression of her dedication. We can all add stories of how she sprinkled little reminders of caring all over! Even with challenging physical limitations, she found a way to both recognize beauty and add it to each hour.
Sister’s niece Susan remarked in our telephone conversation yesterday: “She was going to live forever.” And a sign in Sister’s bedroom reflect similar sentiments. It reads, “God put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die. “
Sister knew she wasn’t going to live forever, but on the other hand I don’t believe she was expecting to die so soon. And it is true that she left many projects unfinished!
I believe we will remember her as a master not of things but rather of relationship. Thus this morning’s hymn again calls her to mind: “For the joy of human love, Brother, sister, parent, child, Friends on earth, and friends above; For all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to you we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.”
Sister Cabrini, we believe that you found here the peace and happiness you so desired when you came to Nauvoo in 1948. We thank you for your courage and generosity throughout your life. We trust that the ‘surprise’ of your death is a pale shadow of the glory you now experience in your eternal home!