A Sister for the Little Ones of God

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What can one say about the life and times of our Sr. Anne Joseph?  Sr. Nuala Cotter, our Provincial, tries to put down in writing what we all feel about our Sister.  Thank you, dear Sr. Anne, for your beautiful life.

On Sister Anne Joseph, R.A.

I’d like to quote two wise women as a way to speak about our Sister Anne.  The first is Maria Montessori, whose method of education inspired not only Anne’s way in the classroom, but, I’d say her whole way of looking at life.  La Professora Montessori said:

“It is not enough for the teacher to love the child. She must first love and understand the universe. She must prepare herself, and truly work at it.”  

When I read that this morning, I thought:  “This is Anne, 100%!”  She did love the children, and the evidence of that is very clear.  There are thank you cards from children and parents stacked all over her room on the third floor of our house.  There are photos piled six inches deep in places…and not just photos of kids she knew.  There are also photos taken from magazines and newspapers.  One of the most powerful is taped onto her wall:  that photo of the little Syrian boy who drowned on the beach during his family’s attempt to leave war and live in peace.  I wasn’t surprised to find his image there; I believe that she prayed for him and his mother and father with all her heart.  She was able to put herself into the shoes of others, whether those shoes were the tiny sneakers of a child face down on the shore or the beat up flip flops of a street person looking for a bit of shelter and a few quarters.  Anne really identified with them because, I think, she identified with Christ.  She saw him in them and them in Him.

So yes, she loved the children, but she also loved the universe and sought to leave it a better place.  She cared about the big questions of war, peace, and justice.  She didn’t close any door or any window when she entered religious life; rather, she kept opening them wider and wider – usually dragging us and all her friends along with her as she went!

The second quote is from a poet – another species of human being that Anne loved very much!  It’s from Mary Oliver, whose poem “Praying” is on the back of Anne’s memorial card. Here’s the second half of the poem:

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak."

We know that Anne could talk – and even that she wasn’t averse to haranguing you from time to time!  But she also had a very silent side, a side that did not speak words, even though it could be speaking volumes. 

Mary Oliver’s insight that “this isn’t a contest but the doorway/into thanks” strikes me as a good way to think about what Anne was living in her silence.  And perhaps even to understand it as an invitation to seek to enter that doorway ourselves.

Anne, we promise: we will try to “just pay attention,” we’ll skip the “elaborate” words or gestures, and so we’ll try to follow you there.  Rest in peace, dear sister and friend.