“Seek out the LORD and his strength;
constantly seek his face.” Psalm 105:4
In January my Congregation made a difficult decision to close our convent at the end of June. The conversations and discernment that preceded this decision left me with a sense of peace but also sadness. In 1930 our sisters arrived at Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Greenwich Village (Manhattan). The parish started nearly forty years earlier and with a new church built, it was time for a school. (The convent, built on top of the school, wouldn’t come for another 20+ years.) While four sisters opened the mission, that number quickly grew to 19. In total, 140 sisters served the school and parish. What a legacy! All these women seeking the face of God in the face of their students and parishioners.
Following the announcement of our departure to our school families, our local community sat down together and asked some big questions: How could our sisters across our United States province participate in the end of our longest continuously running mission in the country? How could we thank the parish and school communities for all their support? So, like all good sisters, we planned! We set dates for farewell Masses and an Open House, supported our faculty in continuing to carry on our charism and mission.
Then came coronavirus. Everything we had planned got scratched. Truthfully, the change in plans was just the beginning of the heartache. There was the lack of ritual closure, combined with the end of an era for our Province’s ministry there. Then there was the feeling of being alone. Health and safety guidelines in Manhattan limited the number of visitors we had. Our sisters excel in checking in on each other and lending a helping hand. Yet we were just three sisters left to pack up and close our convent. With such a monumental task before us (oh, and did I mention this was in the middle of transitioning to online learning and attempting to still teach in some capacity!), I needed the Lord’s strength to undertake this task. I was searching for his face anywhere I could find. His “face” often came in the form of an email or phone call, rather than a physical person before me.
With God’s grace, the work got done. Boxes appeared. Cabinets were emptied. Restrictions lifted enough to have some nearby sisters with vans come help with the actual move. School finished online and the already quiet hallways of school got quieter. I packed up my classroom and my bedroom. Suddenly, we found ourselves at the end. In those last few nights, God’s face became quite visible, starting with a thank you note left on our car and surprise 4th of July fireworks over the Hudson River. Perhaps the best sign of all was end-to-end double rainbows our last two nights in the City. I can’t think of a better symbol of God’s fidelity and care, like a smile blessing us for nine decades of service.
Just like our planning in January that quickly came undone by a pandemic, our goodbye took a different turn. Not even two weeks into my “new normal” we got word: our school was closing. For good. The wound reopened and the heartache returned. The whirlwind of emotions--being so far away from the physical school building, feeling apart from faculty, staff, and students. Again, the lack of ritual closure. I’m back to Psalm 105… to look for God’s face in every event and person and circumstance--especially in light of this difficult news. I’m relying on divine strength and grace to know what to say (or not say) and how to respond to those who reach out. The signs have been there all along the way. I have no reason to think it’ll be different now. Who knows, maybe I’ll see a rainbow soon.
Kathryn (Katie) is a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a current Giving Voice Core Team member. Having finished a three year teaching stint in Manhattan, she’s currently preparing for evangelization and parish ministry in Ireland. The photo above shows Sr. Kathryn (second from left) and her sisters thanking the local Italian butcher for the kindness his family has shown the sisters.