The nuns’ day by day e mail replace was overtaken by information of infections. Ambulances blared into the driveways of their convents. Prayers for the sick went unanswered, prayers for the lifeless grew monotonous and, their cloistered world all of a sudden caving in, among the sisters’ ideas had been halting.
“How many people,” Sister Mary Jeanine Morozowich questioned, “shall be left?”
These had been girls who held the palms of the dying and who raised the undesirable, who pushed chalk to slate to show science and grammar and, by their very own instance, religion. And when the worst 12 months was over, the toll on the Felician Sisters was nearly an excessive amount of to bear: 21 of their very own, in 4 U.S. convents, who collectively served 1,413 years, all felled by the virus.
The pierce of syringes is bringing the darkest days to an finish. Quarantines are being lifted. And as sisters emerge, there’s a wrenching grief over their losses and a nagging must know what all of it means.
“There’s received to be a motive,” Morozowich says of her survival. “What’s God asking me to do?”
Earlier than lives turned inward and smiles had been hidden by masks, earlier than an always-climbing rely of the lifeless and a always altering forecast of when this all shall be over, there have been issues you could possibly rely on.
And on the St. Anne Dwelling in Greensburg, it was Sister Mary Evelyn Labik.
On the entrance desk, she met a panoply of holiday makers with the type of real heat that made it unimaginable to say no when she got here promoting calendars or sweet for a fundraiser. When the solar sliced by the stained glass and streaked the chapel’s partitions with pastels, she was there alongside the aisle, sixth pew on the left. When it was heat, she’d stare with contented fascination as a hummingbird whirred towards a feeder on the porch, and when the nights grew lengthy, she’d be in her tan recliner when “NCIS” lit the TV like a strobe.
As a baby, she was taught by Felicians, rising in admiration for the friendliness they confirmed her.
“Now I need to be one among them,” she wrote as she entered the convent in 1960.
She thrived in roles that capitalized on her compassion, as a kindergarten trainer and nurse’s aide, as a caregiver to profoundly disabled youngsters and as a helper at a highschool. College students had been so drawn to her they took to calling her “Mother E” — the E for Evelyn — and a few would write her for many years after.
She’d arrived 26 years earlier in Greensburg, the place the convent is tucked in a posh with a nursing residence and the seven sisters occupy tiny rooms on a spartan hallway with a communal rest room within the heart. For swaths of time, she served as native minister, a home mom of kinds who each helps direct the logistics of neighborhood life and gently guides a household of sisters of their spirituality.
At Christmas, she’d fill material sacks with easy presents like towels and shampoo, and when a brand new sister arrived, she scurried to make them really feel at residence. When Sister Amala Jose, who’s 44, got here from her native India, Labik excitedly welcomed her and added mangoes, ginger paste and habaneros to the procuring checklist.
“One thing she is aware of we like,” stated Jose, who is part of the Daughters of Mary neighborhood, however lives with the Felicians. “Identical to a mother or father bringing issues for the youngsters.”
Because the pandemic unfurled its brutality, Labik sounded motherly notes of warning, reminding sisters to clean their palms and purchase extra sanitizing wipes, even once they’d barely put a dent of their provide.
And when sisters on the convent in Livonia, Michigan, started being rushed to the hospital final March, she couldn’t disguise her alarm, scurrying to share the troubling information.
On Good Friday, Sister Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak turned the sisters’ first casualty in Livonia, a blow that landed with gorgeous depth for the ladies who’d identified her for many years.
“My coronary heart simply leaped,” stated Sister Nancy Marie Jamroz, 79, who had identified Wawrzyniak since getting into the convent and was one among her closest buddies. “She was my little buddy.”
Wawrzyniak’s instructing days had been ended by a number of sclerosis, however she continued contributing any means she might, shuffling behind a wheelchair to work within the laundry room and remembering each birthday with a card.
Jamroz referred to as her “Sunshine.” Wawrzyniak referred to as her “Moonshine.”
On Easter Sunday, it was Sister Celine Marie Lesinski, a trainer, organist and librarian, and Sister Mary Estelle Printz, who put apart an adolescence working at Chrysler to take her vows. Then, Sister Thomas Marie Wadowski, who relished a recreation of canasta and telling of her second-grade class that gained a contest to create a Campbell’s Soup business, and Sister Mary Patricia Pyszynski, who taught in 13 faculties throughout Michigan in six a long time as an educator. Others had been clinging to life.
“How might this be?” requested Morozowich, who was on a short sabbatical from Greensburg because it unfolded. “What’s taking place? What’s going on? Is there a purification going down? Why are so many sisters dying?”
Amongst a whole bunch of communities of Catholic sisters, the Felicians have neither the ubiquity of larger ones just like the Salesians, nor the singular focus of these just like the Faculty Sisters of Notre Dame, nor the reputation of girls following in Mom Teresa’s footsteps within the Missionaries of Charity. However they’re scattered like mustard seeds throughout the continent and past, from a clinic in Jacmel, Haiti, to a preschool south of the Arctic Circle in Tulita, Canada, operating inexpensive housing, ministering to inmates, instructing in faculties and, again and again, focusing their work on the poor, disabled and sick.
Wherever they had been, what was taking place on the convent in Livonia was gripping.
Confined to their rooms as they desperately tried to cease the unfold, the sisters cracked their doorways within the morning to gather breakfast trays. They peered down the hallway to see if a brand new signal appeared bearing the information, in darkish marker on plain printer paper, that the night time had taken one other.
When it did, they absorbed it alone, pinching rosaries and mouthing the identical phrases many times.
“Might our sister,” they requested, “enter the dominion of peace and light-weight.”
After the primary week of the disaster claimed 5 sisters, the second week took 5 extra.
Sister Mary Clarence Borkoski, whose lengthy ministry included work in a meals pantry. Sister Rose Mary Wolak, whose two stints working within the Vatican introduced brushes with St. John Paul II. Sister Mary Janice Zolkowski, who wrote a definitive 586-page historical past of the Felicians. Sister Mary Alice Ann Gradowski, who as a principal may very well be seen cheering, with fierce loyalty, within the bleachers at basketball video games. And Sister Victoria Marie Indyk, who led mission journeys to Haiti the place she insisted college students fill their baggage with garments and drugs and toys going to the hemisphere’s neediest.
Every passing reverberated. Some sisters misplaced somebody they’d identified since they had been youngsters, or with whom they’d shared a house for many years. Others had felt a distant kinship from a shared calling, or had been graced with passing kindnesses once they fell unwell or lonely or had reached out for assist.
Morozowich heard of Zolkowski’s demise and remembered how when she was a scholar in want of the historian’s experience, she acquired keen assist from a girl she had not but met.
“When Janice died,” 74-year-old Morozowich stated, “it was like I used to be stabbed within the coronary heart.”
The anguish persevered.
The deaths got here with pace and magnitude. As painful as they had been, they had been delivered on an ageing neighborhood through which the top is spoken about with consolation borne of their perception that everlasting salvation awaits. For ladies whose lives are steeped in custom and religion, the losses themselves had been dwarfed by the agony of not with the ability to make good on their long-held promise: Nobody dies alone.
As the top neared many times, they couldn’t encompass their sister, greedy her as they recited the Hail Mary, its ultimate phrases pregnant within the weight of the second: “Now and on the hour of our demise.”
Sister Mary Martinez Rozek, who taught English to immigrants. Sister Mary Madeleine Dolan, stirred by two disabled siblings to develop into a particular training trainer. Sister Mary Danatha Suchyta, the sensible scholar who entered the convent as a seventh-grader and rose to develop into a college president.
After which lastly, it appeared, after 13 had been killed in Livonia, possibly the worst was previous.
As some convents remained locked down, the Greensburg sisters had been capable of keep a semblance of normalcy of their small convent, walled off from most guests however discovering pleasure of their rhythms of gathering for meals and for the day by day bookends of spiritual life — morning and night prayers.
For all of the darkness that had entered the sisters’ world, summer time introduced glimpses of sunshine.
On the porch, Labik hung a basket overflowing with purple flowers, and stuffed planters with daisies, impatiens and begonias, and when July 4 got here, she twirled sparklers. In the lounge, she got here to relish the sport exhibits different sisters launched her to, and within the kitchen, her voice would drip with tongue-in-cheek judgment in an ongoing debate on hazelnut espresso vs. conventional roast.
“Lot of nuts round right here,” Labik would say.
When a brand new video arrived of her niece’s younger youngsters, she’d eagerly present it off, and when she made her mattress with a blue blanket her mom left behind, she’d comment the way it felt like a well-known embrace.
“Mother shall be hugging me at the moment,” she stated.
As fall got here, there was even room for a celebration. Labik was pinned with a corsage of white roses to mark her sixtieth anniversary within the convent, and after Mass, there was a dinner in her honor. Glasses had been full, smiles had been broad, and Labik ordered rooster romano, her favourite, surrounded by her sisters.
It was the final time they’d all rejoice collectively.
The second wave haunted and taunted with erratic effectivity, and by the center of November had robbed the Felicians of sisters in Buffalo, New York; Enfield, Connecticut; and right here in Greensburg.
Sister Mary Christinette Lojewski, the educator with a disarming smile. Sister Mary Seraphine Liskiewicz, whose religion persevered whilst her well being waned. Sister Mary Michele Mazur, the keen-eyed artist who gave succor to orphans. Sister Christine Marie Nizialek, who’d bounced again from dropping an eye fixed and receiving a brand new kidney however couldn’t come again from this.
“It was taking place so quick,” stated Sister Mary Elizabeth Mackowiak, 76, who watched from her window in Buffalo when an ambulance approached. “It actually was an terrible, helpless feeling.”
Mackowiak began finding out grief eight years in the past, when she buried her mom, and has run bereavement teams ever since. Now, little prayer playing cards with the faces of her lifeless sisters had been starting to crowd a shelf of her bookcase, and her thoughts was seared with the repeated scene of a hearse in entrance of the convent, the place quarantined sisters watched because the casket was pulled out.
There’s a numbness Mackowiak is aware of gained’t disappear quick, and a seek for which means that goes with it.
“There’s one thing very massive happening,” she says. “Are we courageous sufficient to look a bit past the graves and the shields and the masks and ask ourselves what is that this all about?”
Jamroz noticed the “darkish days” of the spring returning. She tried to blunt the ache by nudging herself to keep in mind that her misplaced sisters had achieved everlasting happiness, however the human loss was exhausting to overlook.
“A few of them, you develop nearer to than even your personal blood siblings,” she stated.
No girls took ultimate vows with the Felicians in 2020; they ended the 12 months with 455 sisters throughout the continent. Fifteen sisters died of assorted causes, along with the 21 who died of COVID-19.
Sister Mary Bronisia Muzalewski, who relished getting ready youngsters for First Communion, and for whom invites had been printed to mark her seventy fifth anniversary of sisterhood with a celebration that may by no means occur. Sister Mary Felicia Golembiewski-Dove, who molded butter into elaborate Easter lambs. Sister Mary DeAngelis Nowak, who when not in prayer, at all times appeared to be discovered behind a e-book.
And Labik, the smiling face who had develop into the guts of her residence.
At first, it appeared like nothing greater than a chilly. However quickly, 78-year-old Labik was on the ground of her room, cradled by Jose. When the paramedics got here, she smiled at her sisters and made the signal of the cross as she was led to the ambulance. From the hospital, once they spoke by telephone, she was lighthearted and laughing.
They made plans for when she would return earlier than, all of a sudden, she took a flip for the more severe.
“It’s this illness,” the physician instructed the sisters, his voice weary with emotion.
When phrase of Labik’s demise reached the convent, her six sisters there went to the chapel, the place they prayed and cried. She was later positioned in her casket barefoot, within the Franciscan custom, and buried in her brown behavior and black veil, a wooden crucifix on string round her neck and the easy silver band she was given when she professed her ultimate vows on her left hand’s ring finger.
“Deus meus et omnia,” was inscribed inside. “My God and my all.”
The sisters boxed up Labik’s few possessions, and the lads who carried them away to donate them did it with such rhythm and reverence that they regarded like pallbearers at a funeral.
She was the one sister to die in Greensburg, a shadow of the loss elsewhere and but no much less profound.
Jose finds herself pondering of Labik when she passes the entrance desk and doesn’t see her beaming face and neatly styled hair, or when she enters the chapel and he or she’s not there to wave.
“All over the place we go,” Jose says, “we bear in mind her and we miss her.”
Morozowich typically slips for a second, pondering Labik is solely on trip. The best way she feels — dazed, disbelieving, eager to shoo her feelings away — reminds her of when her mom died.
Exterior, purple and white crocuses and yellow daffodils have pushed by the soil in a bit courtyard backyard that Labik would plant. And inside, within the room that was as soon as hers, a brand new sister has arrived.