A contemplative monastic nun writing about spirituality, family, relationships, memories, art and craft,
books and more...all from the Boomer Generation perspective and experience.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday Reflection

Visualizing Nicodemus

Today I served as narrator for the Passion of Christ according to the Gospel of John read during our Good Friday Liturgy.  I have been privileged to present this dramatic story many times and have heard it read every Good Friday for over 60 years. In this case I volunteered for the task because I know that in trying to read in a clear and meaningful way, allowing my voice to reflect when able the tension, emotion or import of a scene, leads me deeper into the story and can become an occasion of grace.

We are blessed to have a very scholarly local pastor who is gifting us with his reflections on the presentation of human encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John. The first focused on Nicodemus who came in the safety of night to see Jesus and ask questions. Our discussion centered on the inherited faith of this Pharisee, his motivations and his fear. We hear little afterward about Nicodemus and any possible changes of heart until the Passion narrative. Here it seems that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, likely onlookers at the crucifixion, conferenced over their need to do something and assigned each other specific tasks. Joseph would approach Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus and Nicodemus would obtain the traditional spices to be inserted into the burial cloth wrapped around it. Although he visited under cover of night when Jesus was alive he could hardly carry one hundred pounds of spices through the streets and remain an invisible Jesus sympathizer.
Today, as I read the few words concerning Nicodemus' compassionate bravery an image of him flashed through my mind; the image created by Michelangelo in an unfinished Pieta begun in the last years of his life. I saw it in Florence 55 years ago. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
The Deposition (also called the Florence Pietà, the Bandini Pietà or The Lamentation over the Dead Christ) is a marble sculpture by the Italian High Renaissance master Michelangelo. The sculpture, on which Michelangelo worked between 1547 and 1553, depicts four figures – the dead body of Jesus Christ, newly taken down from the Cross, Nicodemus (or possibly Joseph of Arimathea), Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. The sculpture is housed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. [The Duomo is the Cathedral of Florence.]
According to Vasari [biographer of Italian Renaissance artists], Michelangelo made the Florence Pietà to decorate his tomb in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Vasari noted that Michelangelo began to work on the sculpture around the age of 72. Without commission, Michelangelo worked tirelessly into the night with just a single candle to illuminate his work. Vasari wrote that he began to work on this piece to amuse his mind and to keep his body healthy.
After 8 years of working on the piece, Michelangelo would go on and attempt to destroy the work in a fit of frustration. This marked the end of Michelangelo’s work on the piece and from there the piece found itself in the hands of Francesco Bandini who hired an apprentice sculptor by the name of Tiberius Calcagni to restore the work to its current composition. Since its inception, the piece has been plagued by ambiguities and never ending interpretations, with no straightforward answers available.
The face of Nicodemus under the hood is considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself.
It is interesting to think about Michelangelo in his last years contemplating his life, anticipating his death, and choosing to immortalize himself in the face of this character. I can imagine him facing in memory his flawed character and his failures in faith but also his last clinging to the suffering Jesus; Jesus who in his humanity also died. In this Pieta Michelangelo is the frightened onlooker brought to faith and completely humbled by what he has witnessed.
In the split second of accessing the image of Nicodemus as I read into a microphone there came the grace to know that I am Nicodemus in this story. We are all Nicodemus; all onlookers standing on the stony soil of Golgotha, having a hard time absorbing the shock of being witnesses. We are all Nicodemus in our regrets, in remembering our flaws of character, our failures in standing up for truth and justice, our fear of what others might say about us. We are pitiful. But we cannot just go away under the weight of our self-recriminations. We especially cannot do that today because we know the end of the story.
Instead we can, like Nicodemus, accepting who and what we are and the mistakes that have been made, choose to move in a new direction, chose to make ourselves useful. We can choose to remember and act upon the words of Jesus that we heard just yesterday in the Liturgy of the Lord's Supper. "Do you realize what I have done for you?.....I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

Friday, March 20, 2015

This tribute was first published here in 2012.  

Death of an Urban Saint
       Athalie “Betty” Elizabeth Wimbish, was familiar to residents of uptown Kingston, New York as a local presence from the early1940s to the early 80s; a women of color dressed entirely in black daily making her way from her home on Prospect Street or from St. Joseph’s Church on to London’s Clothing Store at the intersection of Wall and North Front Street where she was employed for thirty-three years. To those who did not know her history she was just “Black Betty”. Betty died at Ferncliff Nursing Home on Good Friday, April 6, 20012 at the age of 95.
She was born on August 4, 1916 at 100 Gage Street, Kingston,
Kingston High School 1934
the daughter of Andrew and Blanch Elizabeth Wimbish and grand-daughter of Hannah “Hattie” Jackson Betty spoke proudly of the African slave heritage of her father combined with the African, Spanish and Dutch ancestry of her grandmother. She recalled that in her childhood a Dutch dialect could still be heard in Kingston. Athalie Wimbish graduated from Kingston High School in 1934. There she wrote interviews for “Dame Rumor” and played basketball. The year book indicated that she was college bound and spoke of missionary work in Africa.

Her childhood was spent in Albany Avenue mansions where her grandmother and mother served as housekeepers and her father as driver and handler of carriage horses. One employer was owner of the Fuller Shirt Factory. In these settings and as a precocious child of mixed race she was exposed to a variety of educational influences. Her grandmother provided religious formation at both St. John’s Episcopal Church on Albany Avenue and the AME Zion Church on Franklin Street.
Following graduation from highschool Betty Wimbish ventured to the Big Apple where although disappointed in her effort pursue a nursing education she experienced the excitement of the Harlem Renaissance and later her first trip to Europe. Early in the 1940s she returned to Kingston to care for her mother and grandmother, working first at Montgomery Wards where she replaced her mother as elevator operator. Beginning in 1943, she fulfilled many tasks for London’s, including inventory, accounts receivable, shipping aid packages to Stanley London’s relatives in Europe and providing secretarial assistance to Mrs. London who was President of Hadassah, a Jewish organization for women. During this time, London’s was the only white owned business that would hire Black teenagers.  Betty spoke of them as “my boys” and took these youngsters under her wing as a woman of color guiding them in the requirements of a responsible working life. Some remained in contact with her for years. The London family was always concerned for Betty’s welfare and that of her family. After her retirement they provided a security system for her home and continued to send  ‘pension’ funds.
First attracted to the Catholic faith during her time in New York City, she was received into the Church in the 1940s at St. Mary’s Church in Kingston which was very welcoming to people of color. After being rejected in an effort to become a Catholic sister because of her race, she made a decision to serve the Church in every other way possible; as catechist at St. Mary’s; as prayer support to any number of priests including Rev. Daniel Egan known as the “Junkie Priest” who was one of the first to draw attention to the need for drug addiction treatment; as participant in the ecumenical efforts of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor, Garrison, NY, and as a tireless fund-raiser for overseas missions.  She was a member of a world-wide mission tour in 1965 which included stops in Hawaii, Japan, India and the Holy Land. In India she sat on the dais during Mass celebrated by Pope Paul VI.
Around the time of her conversion to Catholicism Ms. Wimbish made a life choice, a preference for personal poverty and simplicity motivated by her deep faith and supported by a lifetime of contemplative prayer. By the 1970s she had assumed this persona to such a degree that she became known only as “Black Betty”, dressed always in black from head to toe with a kerchief or beret covering her head at all times. She was readily recognized on uptown streets as she walked to and from daily Mass and on to work. For more recent residents of the city she merely seemed to be a local character, the woman in black who swept the floors at London’s clothing store.
After retirement in 1976, she became an urban hermit, praying constantly, serving as confidant and aide to the poor and as a conduit of funds she received from more fortunate friends. Agnes Scott Smith, now deceased, who taught at Kingston High School, described her as “quietly pious, an enigma who became a nun without going into the convent.” By 1985 Betty’s daily hikes from Prospect Street to St. Joseph’s became too arduous so a few parishioners began to visit her weekly to bring her spiritual food in Holy Communion and also fresh fruits and vegetables for bodily nourishment. A number also kept her supplied with donations which she, a keen judge of character and need, would pass on to others of all shades of color who came to the door seeking guidance or material assistance.  The women who prayed with her came to know her sanctity first hand. Some even came to know her secrets and her wisdom.
With time her memory of the present failed. Yet, memories of the past never faded. She claimed to know the skeletons in many Kingston closets at all locations on the color spectrum. She spoke of attending as a child a ceremony at the Kingston Academy and of arriving late at Kingston High School and being rushed to class by Kate Walton for whom the field house is named. She spoke of being appalled at Jim Crow Laws in the south when visiting her father’s family. For those who took the time to know her she was a knowledgeable and well-read world traveler. In the end, she became an urban saint, a hermit in the midst of the city, praying constantly.
And Betty would admit to having the humor of a rapscallion. Upon bidding her goodbye, a guest could teasingly say, “Now, be good.” To which she would reply, “Now don’t you threaten me!” But her last words were always, “God bless you.”

I visited Betty once a week for over ten years. We laughed, prayed, spoke of the local news, shared memories and stories, spoke of our troubles and consoled each other. Betty generously introduced me to the Black, African American, sensibility. Her personal history was a revelation and inspiration to faith, perseverance, love of family and personal sacrifice. She taught me such expressions as "The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice" and "What's bred in the bone cannot be beaten out of the flesh." To know her was a privilege, an unforgettable privilege. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Announcing a Debut

This new online presence of
news and opinion from sisters and nuns
has published an essay of mine entitled
Let me know what you think.

Global Sisters Report
a project of the National Catholic Reporter

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Blessed Christmas Season and Happy New Year to ALL

Posted here to enable Facebook accessibility to FB Friends. 
No pictures because BlogSpot is suffering a picture loading hiccup.
Check FB for pics.

Dear Ones,

This is sent with the hope that you and your families and communities are enjoying these special days; that they have enriched your relationships, extended your love and made memories for a lifetime. As I begin to write and look back on this year I am amazed at the amount and variety of events that have transpired; all the challenges, all the joys, all the new experiences (some that I would not trade at all and others that I could have easily done without). Where does the time go and how does life get so complicated?

Late in 2013 we welcomed Matilda Anne Pleva, daughter of Teresa and Andrew, into the world. She appears above back in October with her adoring cousin Nicholas, son of Kim and Jonathan, and now almost 11 years old. Here he is in another picture with his brother Benjamin who just celebrated his 8th birthday. Jonathan and family moved from Waterbury, CT to Chelmsford, MA to which he was transferred as a Boy Scout Council Executive. Theirs is a very busy family.
Now little Matilda has a new cousin who arrived on November 1, 2014, Harrison Cooper Pleva, son of Heidi and Matthew. He is just adorable and I can’t wait to get my hands on him again. Heidi and Matthew also juggle a great deal in their lives with regular jobs and their shop “Art Riot” on John Street in Kingston. Matt’s tour de force this year was painting an outdoor mural (35 x 65ft.) depicting historic Kingston and the Old Dutch Church. Hard on the heels of Harrison’s birth came the installation of another holiday window designed by Matt for the Blue Cashew shop in Rhinebeck.
Teresa and Andrew are about to close on purchase of a house whose history will be a blessing to them. In a few weeks they will moved into 41 Lafayette Avenue, Kingston just 2 blocks from the house in which Andrew grew up and where Matthew and family live now. Everyone really wanted to be near each other and create family for the children. The 1920s vintage house belonged for over 50 years to a couple who were pillars of the church and most generous souls so a loving spirit will surround them there. The house which was very well maintained has an extra bedroom and full bath on the first floor, a wrap-around porch, three 2nd floor bedrooms and a walk-up attic with some finished space and built-in cedar closet. The new life and new homes are answers to prayer and a call to gratitude at the end of this year.
There were challenges too during which the appeal to God was for the gifts of wisdom and compassion. In May my mother who was being treated for pneumonia fell during the night in her assisted living bedroom. She got a bad gash on her head and lay in a pool of blood for a long time. Nothing was broken but she required hospitalization for a week and then nursing home placement to recoup from the fall and the pneumonia. So I searched for a better choice than the 3 other nursing homes she has spent time in during the last 2 years. We settled on Putnam Ridge in Brewster, NY about a 35 minute drive from me and an hour less in travel time then to Tuxedo for my sister living in Connecticut. Rose was still heavily involved in the task of selling my parents’ house. That was accomplished in July.
When my mother went to the nursing home she just wanted to be left alone to sleep and had to be fed at meals. We assured the staff that she was walking independently the day before her fall and would come back to life. By the middle of July she had indeed become herself but all agreed she could no longer live safely in assisted living. So Putnam Ridge has become her permanent home.
No sooner was the decision made than we learned that her brother, my Uncle Joseph Milazzo age 82, had collapsed in a laundromat in Margate, FL near his home. I flew down on July, 26. His condition was very poor and it was clear that he could not live alone any longer. I worked furiously to get necessary legal documents created, organize his papers, put his condo into some order, dispose of a great deal and supervise his care as he went from hospital to nursing home, back to hospital and then back to nursing home in the space of 2 weeks. Since he was too ill to travel on a commercial plane and I was unable to stay in Florida permanently, we decided to fly him to NY via private air ambulance jet and place him in the nursing home with my mother. They enjoyed a loving reunion in mid-August. But his condition continued to deteriorate. Although we knew his condition was poor we were surprised by his sudden death on October 3rd. He now rests in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens where his mother was buried in 1932 when he was just 3 months old. My uncle worked hard all of his life as a master carpet mechanic. He never married; he lived well but not extravagantly. He played the market and later settled into reliable investments. As generous as he was in life he could be as generous in death. At this time both my sister and I are dealing with all the responsibilities which follow upon the deaths of both my uncle my father. We have learned a great deal; everything is very complicated even with the aid of lawyers and accountants.
My mother is being well taken care of but the sight of her in the Memory Wing of the nursing home among patients with similar dementia symptoms and many others so much farther along the way in their gradual total departure from reality is often difficult to bare. I remind myself that her manner indicates that she is nothing but content and feeling safe. She walks with a walker but is getting even slower. She does not remember that her brother was there and she rarely asks about my father. We worry only about falls and pneumonia.
For years I have not traveled too much with exception of trip to Ireland in 2011. This year brought trips to Sioux Falls, SD in January to transfer our sewing business to another community; to Indianapolis, IN for an Association of Contemplative Sisters leadership meeting; to Florida during the summer; and to St. Louis in September for ACS national meeting. While these were all lovely experiences I find air travel very uncomfortable and arduous.
A month before the trip to Florida I had hip surgery to correct some unanticipated problems after hip replacement in 2010 – residual pain from a muscle rubbing against the artificial hip joint and also a bone spur beneath it. Surgery at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases was a great experience – just a 2 day stay.
Our community continues to live the blessing of sharing a monastery with the Carmelite nuns. In May we moved our three sisters from assisted living in Mt. Vernon, NY to the infirmary (Lourdes Health Care) of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Wilton CT. Sr. Mary had begun to experience seriously declining health. We supported her through a number of hospitalizations both before and after the move to Wilton. Our much beloved sister passed into the arms of God on December 9. So at this writing, as we decorate for Christmas, we are still processing the loss of our sister. In February, we had supported the Carmelites in their loss of Sr. Michael Ann, a very dear and wise person who was the first prioress of the union of three Carmelite communities which came together here in 1998.

Each day I seem to be playing catch up with the list of things to do; paper work and phone calls for family matters, secretarial work for the community, household chores, managing our various sites on the internet (see links below), writing for blogs and other publications, knitting for our on-line shop and for the new babies in my life. But distractions abound and other things come along to take precedence. I try to visit my mother once a week. When I can I find time to do the writing I am drawn to – opinion or memoire pieces that I publish to my blog, an essay for our Order’s international publication, and lately meaningful obituaries.
So often I find myself moving into default mode and thinking I should call Dad and Mom about some article I have seen that would interest them; share a story about the new ones in the family; tell them about something wonderful I found among my uncle’s things; ask for a recipe or practical advice; or seek philosophical discussion of the fate of our world. Then I face the fact that none of this is possible any longer. I have passed into the mode of being the one who receives those calls from my own children who want to share an achievement, recount the vagaries of the home buying experience these days, tell of a child’s new stage of development, or ask about advisable treatment for childhood illness. All very gratifying, but also reminding of years passing all too quickly. Another reminder came in the death of my father’s best friend, Vito Capuco of Annapolis, MD in September. They met at City College in 1948. As I moved among his dear family and their many friends at wake and funeral the memories came in almost overwhelming waves.
I look forward to the year 2015 which will include some travel, time to do some things pushed aside for too long. It will include celebration of our Sr. Lydia’s 50th jubilee of vows; Jonathan running in the Boston Marathon in a fundraising effort on behalf of a charity which emerged from the Newtown tragedy; Teresa and Andrew moving into their new home.
Have been praying for all of you throughout  the Advent Season, our Christmas Novena and these days of the solemn feast of the Incarnation. I am drawn particularly to the needs of long married couples experiencing the challenges of ageing, the suffering of refugees and those enduring violence of any kind, as well as the fate of our planet.
Thank you for the gift you are to me and for the continuing relationship which is only blessing. Best wishes to you and yours for the coming year. Stay in touch. It means so much.

May God bless us all.    
With the assurance of prayers and with much love,

Community Website and Blog
Community Facebook Page:
Monastery On-Line Shop:
Shop Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/RedNunsRoberie

Friday, December 19, 2014

Well Done Good and Faithful Servant

Obituary Tribute to
Sister Mary McCaffrey

1927 - 2014

“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven
 is God, and God is in my soul. My mission
 in heaven will be to draw souls, helping
them to go out of themselves to cling to God.”
Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD

Sister Mary Teresa McCaffrey of the Redemptoristine community residing in the Monastery of the Incarnation, Beacon, NY, died on December 9, 2014 at Lourdes Health Care Center,  infirmary of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Wilton, CT at the age of 87 years following a lengthy illness. Sister Mary was the first of four children born to Teresa Alice Taylor and Daniel Joseph McCaffrey on October 6, 1927 in Brooklyn, NY. She is survived by her brothers Daniel and Gerard (Barbara) and a sister Kathleen (John Janny), twelve nieces and nephews, their fifteen children and eight nuns who shared vowed life with her in the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Sister Mary first entered religious life in 1947 in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, Long Island. After professing vows in 1949 as Sr. Teresa Miriam she was placed in charge of large classes of little boys in the parish schools of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Mary, Mother of Jesus in Brooklyn.  During 12 years with the Josephites she obtained a BA degree from St. John’s University.
Responding to a call within a call, she entered the contemplative monastic order of the Redemptoristine Nuns, located in Esopus, NY, in 1959. In humble obedience and with great courage she became a novice for the second time joining a young community creating a new monastic foundation on the grounds of Mt. St. Alphonsus Redemptorist Major Seminary.  There she professed Solemn Vows in 1961 as Sr. Mary Teresa of the Holy Family.
By middle age Sr. Mary was enduring ever increasing physical infirmity. Yet she remained faithful in devotion to God, her contemplative vocation and personal devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Always available to her community, she served as Council Secretary for numerous terms, presided over the monastery library and gave willing ear and wise guidance to many new members. The lay associates of the monastery also benefitted from her direction. On behalf of many friends and benefactors she exercised the apostolate of the pen in generous correspondence. Sr. Mary rejoiced in her experience of over 70 years association with the Redemptorist Congregation; as a child in their parish, a teacher in their schools, and as neighbor to their seminary in Esopus. She influenced many young boys considering the priesthood and later became friend, confidant, informal spiritual director or prayer partner to many Redemptorist priests and brothers. Throughout her life she was a golden thread woven into the fabric of her family where she remained a source of unity and wisdom and a model of faith and prayer. 
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of the Halvey Funeral Home  (www.halveyfh.com). The community will receive visitors at the Monastery of the Incarnation, 89 Hiddenbrooke Drive, Beacon NY on Monday, December 15 from 2 to 4 pm and from 7 to 8:30pm. A Vigil Service will begin at 7:30pm. Mass of the Resurrection will be offered on Tuesday, December 16 at 11:00am in the Monastery chapel. Burial will be at Mt. St. Alphonsus Cemetery (grounds of The Mount Academy) Route 9W, Esopus, NY at 2:30pm. In lieu of flowers it is suggested that donations be made to Lourdes Health Care Center, 345 Belden Hill Rd., Wilton, CT 06897 in support of their compassionate care for senior sisters.