How I Found Myself Holding A Dead Nun’s Hand


Frances Warde with new sign.

Frances Warde with new sign.

Catherine McAuley gets her sign.

Catherine McAuley gets her sign.

Charlie Rohde, former board chair, at dedication of plaza named for his family.

Charlie Rohde, former board chair, at dedication of plaza named for his family.

President Laurie Hamen at Plaza ceremony.

President Laurie Hamen at Plaza ceremony.

Kerry Weber in Chapel of Mercy.

Kerry Weber in Chapel of Mercy.

Kerry Weber greets fans and signs books after her speech.

Kerry Weber greets fans and signs books after her speech.

MMU President Laurie Hamen introduces speaker Kerry Weber.

MMU President Laurie Hamen introduces speaker Kerry Weber.

It was dark, a pleasant, warm fall evening. I had just listened to an entertaining presentation by Kerry Weber, author of the memoir “Mercy in the City.”

One day, she had told a priest colleague of hers of a difficult time she and some other volunteers had in giving away food at Penn Station. The priest said something like: “It’ just like that prayer: Lead us not into Penn Station…”

Bu-bum-ching.

Anyway, Weber told of a number of experiences, including one that had an odd impact on me.

It was Mercy Day at MMU today, and it was quite a grand affair. From the dedication of the new Rohde Family Plaza and naming of the Sisters of Mercy University Center, it was a day of remembering and ceremony.

Later, there was Weber’s speech.

For me personally, it was a mixed day. Some classes are going well, some so-so. I had a tooth break this week, and saw a dentist at 3 p.m. this afternoon to have the damage assessed and treated. It will be a bit pricey, I’m afraid, to get the final fix.

Oh well. The dentist did get done in time for me to just make it to the ceremony in the nick of time, and I did not want to miss it. Afterwards, there were hors d’oeuvres, which served as my supper. My mouth was kind of funny and limp, but I luckily could still taste with the not-numb side, and I managed to wolf down more than my fair share without biting tongue or cheek, and that was something.

Still, despite my personal tooth struggle, I rate today in the “win” column. And I don’t know if the Novocain or whatever painkiller dentists use these days, but something put me in a good, but slightly daffy mood.

I blame Kerry Weber. She told the story of going to the Mercy House in Dublin, Ireland, and seeing and holding hands with a statue of Catherine McAuley. “I know it wasn’t Catherine McAuley, it was just a statute, but I was moved by a wonderful sense of connection,” Weber sort of said. I’m quoting her here without notes.

After the event was all over, I ate my post-speech brownies, unlocked my bike, and started pedaling across the Rohde Plaza. But I stopped when I got to the statue of Catherine. I parked, dismounted, walked up to it, and looked at the statue’s hands. And then I put my hand in her hand.

I didn’t feel a shock or anything super profound, but it felt good to be there in the quiet dark holding the hand of a nun who lived in the 19th century but whose work continues today, partly in what I do.

The names of all the sisters who have labored at MMU are engraved in the plaza. And now Catherine McAuley seems more tangible as she watches over them, and the rest of us who try to carry on the Mercy legacy.

A video of some photos, Sister Shari Sutherland and other singing “Circle of Mercy” and an excerpt of remarks by SGA Vice President Julia Cuvelier:

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