Sister Mary Perpetua died April 3rd, while I was in the middle of jury duty, and I didn't want to pen off some quick note about it on the blog. I wanted to give her life some thought so I could write something proper. I've read the obituary the Order of Grey Nuns wrote for her and it's fine, but it's just about her life.
I, however, knew her as a fascinating woman with great humor, a misbehaving history where she and my father would ditch school as kids, and a deep love of God that I'll always remember and cherish. She walked through a room like an unstoppable tank (as most nuns of a certain era did), taught me sign language, and showed me that there's nothing wrong with ordering a blue-plate special and cocktail at 5pm when you're in New York City.
Sister told us about two semi-recent trips to the doctor. One was for her eye, which needed an operation so she could see. When the doctor explained that she could potentially lose her eye, she said this:
"Oh good. Do you think you could give me a blue one instead? I've always thought I'd be more attractive with blue eyes." He looked at her, stunned. She played innocent. "Don't you think I'd be more attractive with one blue eye?"
A short while later she'd have a second operation to remove a potentially cancerous bump from her face. But that might leave a scar.
"Then everyone can just called One-Eyed Scar-Faced Mary." Sister James Maureen was horrified that she'd tell us this.
"What?" Sister Aunt Mary asked, again ever-so-innocently. "If you had a piano teacher named One-Eyed Scar-Faced Mary you'd listen to what she told you, wouldn't you?" Steve and I nodded. We would.
"You know, I always dreamed of playing at Carnegie Hall," she told him off-handedly. "I guess this is as close as I'll ever come." She then stood up to complete their purchase.
"You never know, Sister," the man replied, and went off to write up the receipt.
According to Sister, he was gone for a long time, and she wondered if he'd forgotten them for some wealthier customer. Instead, when he returned, he asked her to follow him into the back of the store -- she thought he was going to show her a piano more in line with their budget-- then through an alley, and into the stage door at Carnegie Hall. There she met the stage manager, who without pausing led her to the center of the stage where a beautiful piano was waiting.
"He said to everyone in the room, the janitors, backstage people and staff, 'Excuse me, everyone. Please stop what you're doing. Sister is going to perform.' I didn't know what to do, I was shocked. But all of them took a seat in the auditorium, so I sat down and played my favorite song. And when it was over they applauded."
I wish I'd written in my journal what her favorite song was, but I didn't. However, whenever I think of this story, it makes me cry with happiness.
My mom, brother and sisters are all stunned that sister met Steve, much less that she let the both of us in the convent. She knew about our relationship because she was my favorite aunt, and I hated traveling to New York and not calling her. So I told her the truth. Mom says age mellows you, so maybe that's why she never condemned us to hell. I won't pretend to know the answer.
But maybe one day she'll tell me her reasons, when I see her again on the other side.