Today we celebrated the 50th anniversary of profession of our little Sr. Mary Peter of Jesus Crucified! Sister's actual anniversary is March 9th but it was during Lent so we postponed the community celebration until after Easter. On June 29th, Sister's feast day, we'll have a special Mass and celebration with her family.
Sr. Mary Peter will celebrate her 91st birthday next week! Although she gets shorter everyday and is quite hard of hearing she is active in the community and has been clocked at going over the speed limit down the hallway! Sister is a marvelous example to our younger sisters in her fidelity in attending all the hours of the Divine Office and her generous spirit in taking the hours of rosary and adoration.
Sister Mary Peter's journey to that spring day in March, 1957 when she made First Profession was long and circuitous. A native of Providence, RI, Sister entered the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary whose novitiate wasn't far from her home. During her time with the Congregation she met the future Paul VI who was at that time "Cardinal Protector."She left at the expiration of her temporary vows due to health problems. Not wanting to return home, the Sisters found her a job at a hospital in New York and she fondly speaks of the job her sister got her as a nurse's aide, taking care of newborn babies.
Camille's heart was still yearning for religious life and our monastery was recommended to her by a Sister of Mercy. She came in early 1951 at the "old age" of 34, living as an extern for 4 years during the time when extern sisters had no canonical status as religious and were more like tertiaries wearing the habit and dedicated to the service of the monastery.
In 1955 Sister Mary Peter of Jesus Crucified entered the enclosure of the monastery as a postulant and received the habit of a lay sister and made profession on March 9, 1957. Sister served the community as guest kitchen cook, fudge maker and shoemaker. Although Sister was a good cook, she had a standard menu and the Sisters' guests always knew what the menu would be according to the day! For years Sister Mary Peter made fudge which was sold in our tiny gift shop.
In 1967 the Holy See supressed the category of "lay sisters" and Sr. Mary Peter received the black veil. She is the only sister in the house that has been every possible category of religious sister: active sister, extern, lay sister and "choir" nun!
However, Sister Mary Peter is probably most well-known as the "shoe nun", a craft she learned while with the Franciscan Sisters. At the time, all the nuns wore homemade, sort of shapeless, canvas style shoes (no, we don't have any in the archives!). However, during the early '70's after our Constitutions changed, friars and nuns were permitted to wear sandals. (The "why" will be explained another time.) One day a friar whose name is lost to history, left his sandals here. Sr. Mary Peter looked at them and said, "I could make some like this!" She took the sandals apart to use as a model and from then on custom made sandals were crafted for each nun. Sister continued this labor of love until just a few years ago. She still on occasion goes down to the shoe room and putters around, leaving herself notes on sandals and shoes that need to be mended. (She never gets to the mending, though.)
Sister Mary Peter has another hobby: making stuffed animals. For years just about anyone who came was the recipient of one of her "kids"—teddy bears, Snoppies, dogs, piglets, little critters with magnets for the fridge, etc. It wasn't unusual to see her come to recreation armed with scissors and felt, cutting out the patterns. When she wasn't cutting out for her stuffed animals she was cutting leather for our sandals.
To every new sister in the community Sr. Mary Peter shares the wisdom she has acquired through the years. What is it? "It's a great life if you don't weaken," she says with a twinkle in her eye!
The giggles of a new postulant may bring smiles and the radiance of a new novice or professed may be beautiful but there is nothing like the witness of the bride of Christ who has has been faithful for 50 years! Sr. Mary Peter of Jesus Crucified is living proof that, "it's a great life if you don't weaken!"