Joel’s deacon formation program requires our attendance at a week-long summer school session at Conception Abbey. This past summer our children came along. They lived in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria, and occasionally attended class with us. They were fully immersed in the experience. The whole thing could have sent me into the infirmary, but we survived, rather peacefully in fact.
The experience for our daughter Lucy, however, would have been incomplete had she not met Sister Therese Marie. When we first arrived at the Abbey, we spotted Sister walking across a parking lot. She appeared so elegant in her white habit that it almost seemed she was floating. “A nun. A nun! It’s a nun!” Lucy squealed. We didn’t know it then, but Sister Therese Marie was on silent retreat at the Abbey.
A few hours later we crossed paths with Sister. She briefly broke her silence to speak with Lucy. The two of them chatted about life, mostly the world according to Lucy. Sister graciously indulged her, getting an occasional word in edgewise. At the point I feared we were beginning to intrude upon her retreat, I helped Lucy wrap up the conversation so Sister could continue on.
Throughout the week, when Lucy would see Sister Therese around campus, she would energetically shout, “Hiiiii Sister Therese!” only to be hushed and gently reminded by Joel and me that Sister wasn’t able to talk. Clearly she made an impact on Lucy.
(Really, how do you explain a silent retreat to a talkative four-year-old who doesn’t understand the concept of silent let alone retreat?)
Before Sister Therese Marie packed up and left the Abbey, she wrote a note to Lucy. It said:
I am happy that I had a chance to meet you. Just as a butterfly brings joy to our lives, so do you bring joy to everyone you meet. Please pray for me, as I do for you and your little brother Jude and your Mom and Dad. God bless you.
My heart immediately burst and eyes filled with tears of joy! All the stress associated with packing up half the house for the week was worth it simply for this gift Sister Therese gave to our family. You see, Des Moines isn’t rich with sisters, let alone sisters in habit. This makes it difficult to talk about sisterhood with Lucy. We read stories about well-noted nuns like St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Clare of Assisi, and The Sound of Music and finds plenty of screen time at Das Schmidt Haus (I know … I know!). But nothing compares to a personal interaction and living witness. I’ve tucked Lucy’s note away for safe keeping, but we occasionally reread it and talk about Sister Therese, her vocation, and silent retreats. I’m not giving up on teaching her the concept of being silent!.
Sister Therese didn’t have to write that note. She didn’t have to break her silence to speak to Lucy. But Sister Therese intuitively understands the power and responsibility of the habit. Rather than seeking to blend away and not be bothered, she purposefully stands out. Not just visibly, but in joy, kindness and charity — a shining example of holiness.
In nine days, the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Little Flower. Several names, one great saint. A doctor of the Church, Pope Pius X called St. Thérèse the greatest saint of modern times. A powerful intercessor, she is beloved by many who seek her help.
Nine days away. Seems like a prime opportunity to pray a novena. John-Paul at PrayMoreNovenas.com has made it really easy for us. Enter your email address here, and a daily novena prayer will arrive in your inbox nine days before the next major feast or celebration of the Church.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is known for answering prayers in spectacular ways. We are praying for increased vocations to the sisterhood, for more Sister Therese Maries to float about the earth. Please join us. I’m excited to see the fruits of our collective prayers.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, ora pro nobis!