Remember the deceased Sisters of St. Paul's Monastery with a gift to the All Souls' Day appeal.
Tell of a Life Through Hands
Later, I’ll dwell on her hands, but the most vivid image is of her arms, outstretched in welcome on a sunny, warm morning in June, as a group of thirty-something women alighted upon the campus of the St. Paul Seminary.
This was the early 90s, before the cassocks had made their comeback and the few seminarians still around for the summer were in T-shirts and blue jeans. Under a wise and
loving rector, the institution had opened its doors to lay people, educating and forming us as one of their own.
Sister Carol Rennie was the official greeter, the extrovert among earnest faculty members whose aim was to instill religious truths, ancient, relevant, and diverse, revealing little of the gentle humor we would slowly pull out of those professors as
the summer progressed. Carol, a Benedictine nun who eschewed any claim to the “sister” moniker, brought her prairie grit and practical work ethic to every relationship she deemed worthy of her wisdom. The open arms did not end up in a big hug, but rather the hands—surprisingly warm and soft for a farm girl—would reach out and claim yours and not let go. Having your hand clutched in Carol’s was a lesson in paying attention, nodding agreement, and realizing your free afternoon had just been dive-bombed with a flurry of suggested activities, goals, and objectives.
Years later at St. Paul’s Monastery, I listened and watched as Carol’s hands outlined the bed she would prepare for expected guests at the monastery, praying for whomever would enjoy the clean sheets, smoothed and straightened, pillows plumped and chocolate kisses pressed against them, just so.
She was a nail biter, listening carefully while you regaled her with stories or troubles, ideas or gossip (she loved gossip) as she kept one thumbnail propped against her bottom teeth, only freeing it in order to be understood in validating your own hopes and dreams.
Once our pandemic fears had receded a bit, I came again to the Monastery to play the organ for morning and evening prayer. From her wheelchair, Carol always watched the door to the chapel, her instinct of welcome shining through. I like to think she recognized me even in my mask, as, with a wave of her hand, she greeted me with a slight movement, the strength of those fingers having ebbed along with her memory.
We buried Carol this last May. With story after story, we breathed in the last of this splendid woman. And then, with a deep communal sigh we sent her over, into the realm of peaceful, strong, loving hands.
Kathryn Lien is a regular organ/piano accompanist for Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharists at St. Paul’s Monastery.