Sister Mary


By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC

One of the spiritual writers I find consistently interesting is the Australian Jesuit Richard Leonard. The author of several books published by Paulist Press in the U.S., Leonard is an hospitable writer, warm, accessible, and self-effacing. There is a refreshing honesty about him that you don’t always find in evidence among the spiritual celebrity scribblers.

In his collection of reflections for Lent and Easter (and beyond), What are we Hoping for?, Leonard does his usual admixture of anecdote and personal reminiscence, with enlightened pedagogical bon mots peppered throughout this potpourri of biblical insights and storytelling.

I have been thinking a lot during this Lent on Jesus as Teacher, what it means for those of us who teach to see in him a model that can work, and not some abstract ideal removed from our common experience. So the following passage from Leonard’s book struck me with its germane theme and focus.

While in Grade One Leonard runs to his teacher, the formidable Sister of Mercy, Mary Consuelo, with a fragile holy water font only to drop it in front of her, smashing it into a multitude of pieces. Distraught beyond consolation, young Leonard fears for his future. He needn’t have. Sister Mary painstakingly, with an artist’s care and a nun’s commitment to task, resurrects the font:

such was the effect of her prayer life on her relationships, even with a seven-year-old boy; she spent what must have been most of her leisure time for weeks reconstructing a treasured gift. But she was the real gift that day, and it was the best lesson I had from her. . . .[Many years later, after being ordained a Jesuit and having faithfully visited her in her retirement, Leonard comes for his final time with her as she is dying] As I drove away from her that final day. . . .I had tears streaming down my face in gratitude for a teacher who never stopped teaching, an adult who simply and appropriately loved kids who were not her own, and a believer who showed me that faith is about living this life so fully that we can even come to see death as an opportunity to hear Christ say, “With what you had you did your best.”

Sister Mary did her best, modeled in persona Christi the patient and unconditional love of the Teacher.


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