Eulogy for Annette Champigny

delivered by Jane Keegan, RDC

 

To be able to stand here and publicly honor our dear Sister Annette is such a privilege. At the same time, it is a burden, because we can never adequately express all that she was….

 

I’d like to begin with a typical Annette conversation.

 

How are you, Annette?

(And in her famous Massachusetts accent, she replies:)

Oh, Cahn’t complain. Cahn’t complain (chuckles)

 

I’m sure we’ve all heard Annette say this, with her quiet, unassuming presence. She never complained, even when she may have had good reason to.

 

Tragedy struck Annette early in life. In December 1956, at age 31, Annette was the only survivor in a car crash that took the lives of three Sisters of the Divine Compassion. Only Annette really knew how the other sisters died in the accident. Though Annette’s leg was severely broken, she was filled with deep gratitude. Hers was a grateful heart. She asked herself hundreds of times why God had allowed her to live and wondered if she had some special mission.

 

I first got to know Annette when I was a young sister vacationing at Shorelands, Connecticut. One night we had a good old-fashioned songfest. Annette and I spent the night belting out all the old songs. Our dear Sr. Mary Celine, who is already in heaven, was tickling the ivories as the grand pianist.

 

But I really got to know Annette during the 22 years we lived together at Kennedy Convent and from sharing an office together in the high school. Her love for her students, first with little ones in several of our elementary schools, only grew stronger with high school students, first at Preston and later at JFK. And the students loved Sr. Annette! Stories abound about how much they loved her. Here are two examples. One story is about the high school girl who came to the convent every year on Annette’s birthday to hand-deliver a birthday cake. And she had baked it herself! (I’m still waiting for one cake…) Another is a young man that Annette, a French teacher, voluntarily coached every day so that he would pass his Spanish course!

 

Then there were the student trips Annette led to France, not just once, but nine times. Her French students loved these trips. One year Annette invited me to join them. Having taken students to Europe myself, it was a special treat to go as simply part of the group and not as a supervisor. Well, you would have thought Annette was a native Parisian—she knew Paris inside and out. About halfway through our week, Paris erupted in a city-wide strike—that meant all transportation ceased, including the hotel elevators. Spur of the moment strikes are very typical in Europe, but our American students had a fit! While they moaned and groaned, Annette’s ingenuity came to the fore. She declared that we would walk to the nearby Pere Lachaise Cemetery, something not included on most tours. More groans ensued. A cemetery—yuk! So Annette gave them the choice—either stay in the hotel or come with her. Most came with her and were in for an incredible experience.

 

Little did we know that Pere Lachaise is perhaps the most famous cemetery in the world. Among the many celebrities buried there were Frederick Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Maria Callas, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, and the rock star legend of The Doors, Jim Morrison. It was like traveling through history in an outdoor museum of celebrities, with some gravesites bearing photos, others statues or huge mausoleums. And as is typical in Paris, by the time we got back to the hotel, the strike was over. Annette really knew her stuff.

 

Annette was one of 16 children and often spoke lovingly about her brothers and sisters. For years, all of us at JFK were praying for her brother, Arthur or as she called him, “Aahht with the Haahht.” Annette loved spending summers in New Hampshire with Flora, her only surviving sibling who is here today. Her nieces and nephews were all very dear to her, but Mary Elizabeth, also known as Mug, was a favorite.

 

Being from such a large family is what may have made Annette so effective as a Pastoral Counselor at Somers Manor Nursing Home after she stopped teaching. She was very attentive to the patients and loved by their families. Oh, and did you know that Annette had applied to join the Peace Corps in her 60s? For some reason, it didn’t work out, but she wanted to go with all her heart.

 

Annette’s favorite activity was doing her crafts. Before there was PowerPoint, there was NeedlePoint. Annette was a crackerjack at NeedlePoint—not to mention knitting, and crocheting—until her eyes and fingers wouldn’t cooperate any more. At Christmas time I wear a small medallion with embroidered holly that Annette counter-crossed stitched. Inevitably when I wear it, someone always admires it. My Christmas tree is decorated with many ornaments that she made. Many of you may have similar handmade ornaments created by Annette. Annette, your legacy lives on…

 

After recovering from a stroke, Annette came to live here at Good Counsel. The sisters and the Infirmary staff remember her as always smiling and so grateful for any little thing you did for her. Annette was the most self-effacing and gracious person I’ve ever known.

 

She was always thinking of others. When I was working here in Development, Annette was very supportive. Every so often she’d say, “Let’s go out to dinner,” and there we would share stories. These were special moments... Annette would tell me how she prayed to Mother Mary Veronica, our Foundress, about whatever was going on or troubling her. In recent years, Annette’s prayer-talks with the Foundress became more familiar: she now spoke to Mother Mary Veronica as “Ronnie.” Well, dear Annette, I’m sure Ronnie had a most welcome embrace for you this week and that you are now enjoying these talks with her face to face.

 

How fitting that we are celebrating your life among us in this season of the Ascension. With Jesus, you have returned to the Father who gave you life and who blessed us with your beautiful presence. “Bonne chance, mon amie.”  Peace, dear friend.