delivered by Doretta Cornell, RDC
When I think about Sr. M. Gonzaga, little snapshots of her come to mind, most from my years of living beside her in the Holy Family community at Preston. So I offer these verbal “snapshots” to you this morning, and invite you to call up your own as you reflect on her life and its place in your own:
When Sr. Gonzaga finally left the classroom, she turned to tutoring. She would sit at the end of the long table in the community room at Preston, with a student next to her, absorbed in their conversation. From time to time, she would ask if I had a copy of Beowulf, or the Canterbury Tales that she might borrow. Once she helped a student do research on Madonna – not Our Lady the Madonna, but the singer. When the project was complete, Sr. Gonzaga remarked just “Oh, my.”
One day when I came home from school, and walked past the little corridor to Sr. M. Gonzaga’s room and the bathroom, she called to me. She was sitting fully dressed in the bathtub. Would I help her get out? She had been scouring it and slipped in and could not get out alone. She had been sitting there quietly waiting for three hours. “I knew you would be home after a while,” she said. – Gonzaga the intrepid.
When Sr. M. Gonzaga made salad for the community, she did it as she did all things: elegantly. When any of the rest of us made salad, we tore up the lettuce, cut the tomatoes, added a few other touches and set out the bowl. Not Sr. Gonzaga: even when there were 24 of us, she would lay out little plates, arrange a paper lace doily, add a slice of tomato cut just so, and lay an asparagus stalk across it, arrange a sprig of parsley – on each plate.
For some years, Sr. M. Gonzaga would celebrate big occasions with a tiny aperitif glass of creme de menthe. On her hundredth, and hundred and first, and hundred and second birthdays, there was a party for her in the dining room. Many of the other sisters nibbled carefully at the cheese and crackers. Sr. M. Gonzaga, still having her cast iron digestion, feasted on pepperoni and shrimp with cocktail sauce.
Sr. M. Gonzaga loved her family and old friends dearly, and spoke of them frequently and lovingly. A visit or card or phone call was treasured and shared. If I asked who a person she named was, she would be surprised, as if all the world must know everyone she did. A special treat, especially when she had moved to the infirmary at Good Counsel, was receiving pictures of the newest baby and the other children. These would be in display on her wall or on the tray, ready at hand to be shown to anyone who stopped by.
Sr. M. Gonzaga entered into whatever was going on, sitting at that long table, reading the NY Times, but keeping her eye on the comings and goings. She shared the soap operas with Caroline, baseball games with Madeline. One day she greeted me with, “Did you see that home run Bernie Williams hit?”
When Sr. M. Gonzaga was in her 90s, she began to walk less steadily. Old age touching her at last, I thought. Then she had cataract surgery. One day a few weeks later, I was walking across the porch with her and said, “You’re walking better.” She answered, “Now I can see where I am going.”
No matter what anyone did or said, Sr. M. Gonzaga accepted her without judgement. She would sweetly and kindly speak to everyone as if she were the only interesting person present. She weathered the many changes in religious life in the same way, with never a complaint or condemnation, just total trust in God.
Sr. M. Gonzaga’s baptismal name was Dorette. I have always assumed that Mother Ethelburge and Sr. M. Joan gave me her name in hopes that I would turn out to be as much of a lady. That didn’t work, but it did establish a special tie with her – as well as put some of her mail in my mailbox.
Sr. M. Gonzaga would never tell us her age, nor her birthday. Only when her dear sister-in-law Grace phoned and someone else answered did we learn the truth. Grace said she had called to wish Sister a happy 91st birthday. Sr. Gonzaga was still doing the long flights of stairs at Preston every day.
When Sr. M. Gonzaga first told me that her eyes were failing, I asked what had happened. “I think they just wore out,” she said. When I suggested books on tape, she sighed. “They don’t have spiritual books. That’s the only kind I am interested in now. I have to get ready, you know.”
Well, dear Sister Gonzaga, you have been ready for a long time, and now you have made the journey into eternal life – the one that will make 103 years sound short. So we celebrate you today and we celebrate with you.
Please pray for us all that we may live our lifetimes as gracefully and peacefully as you did yours. Thank you, dear Sister.