My late husband Jerry was Jewish, and Jews are people of the book. They don’t do statues, rosary beads, scapulars, miraculous medals, things like that. Jerry went to MIT and the University of Illinois — large, secular universities. Neither campus had a cemetery. He came to St. Elizabeth’s once, and he was completely flummoxed by the statues and the presence of grave markers for dead nuns right on campus.
Nuns were still in habits when he came, and I recall his staring at a black-swathed nun kneeling on the ground in rapt prayer before an outdoor statue. He asked me what in the world she was doing.
“To what? That statue?”
“Not exactly. To what the statue represents.”
I could see that he was mystified.
The Sisters’ cemetery, down the hill from most of the academic and residential buildings, completely did him in. He thought it morbid to go to school with a lot of dead people down the road. I don’t recall us thinking very much about the cemetery as students; it was just sort of there.
I’m not a big cemetery person, but I did roam among the headstones on Thursday to find the grave of my dear friend Sister Bernadette. Near her is Sister Alice Lubin. There’s something poignant to me about all the grave markers lined up in neat rows. At a point, probably as late as the 1960’s, religious life must have felt like something substantial — a powerful body of women dedicated to ministry and a life centered on God. Now, most of the Sisters are over 70, and about half of the remaining 250 or so are much older than that and in the skilled nursing facility. In 20 years almost all of them will be gone, likely as will the Sisters of Charity as an entity.
I asked Sister Alice before she died how she felt about that, and she responded thoughtfully: “We’ve had a great run”. Interesting answer from a woman with an interesting mind.
Reunion ramps up on Friday, and I will have less time for my own private musings and wandering around, and more time with friends.