I’ve got a busy few days ahead of me with the in-laws coming to town, so I’ve decided to combine both Theme Thursday and Sepia Saturday in one post. As TT this week is “history”, I hope you won’t mind if I utilize the Sepia Saturday format to illustrate a bit more of my personal family history on my mother’s side. If a poem hits me in the meanwhile, I’ll be sure and post it too.
This is my Grand-Aunt. (My grandmother, Katie from the “Girl in a Swing” post was her sister.) She was born in 1906. She was about 18 when this studio-photo was taken. I only ever knew her as “Sister Agnes”, or simply, “Sister”, but she was lovingly called, “Mamie” by her family. Her full name was Mary Josephine McNeil. She had 8 siblings, but she was the only one who had a vocation to be a nun.
At the age of seventeen, Mamie went up to Halifax, Nova Scotia from Glace Bay, Cape Breton to get a teaching degree at Mount St. Vincent (“The Mount”)and enter the convent as a postulant of the Sisters of Charity. Her mother and father were truly saddened to see her leave, especially, her “Papa”. She had always been his favourite.
When she became a nun on April 4, 1926, she took the name, “Agnes Eucharia”—Lamb of the Eucharist (flesh and blood of Christ). As a child, it was always a most unusual name to me, but as I grew older and realized the significance, I thought it suited her perfectly.
She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dalhousie University and a Master of Arts degree in Latin from Villa-nova University.
Her first mission was at St. Anne’s in Glace Bay where she earned a reputation as an excellent teacher. She also taught at St. Patrick’s School in Halifax.
Sister taught Mathematics, Latin, French and English for 22 years at Mount St. Agnes in Hamilton, Bermuda (according to the Sisters of Charity website, until the 1950s, Bermuda was part of the Halifax archdiocese. The Bishop in Hamilton called for sisters to minister in Bermuda as far back as 1878). She spent 31 years of her mission life at Sacred Heart parish in Bathurst New Brunswick. In 1967, she received the Canadian Centennial medal for “valuable service to the nation”. In 1972, she retired from teaching to become provincial treasurer of the Central Province for the Sisters of Charity.
She was the sweetest most gentle person I have ever known. She never had an unkind word to say and was always smiling. Her face lit up every time she saw me and she filled me with a sense of peace and joy. The face of God shone through her.
In our home, she had a nickname that I’m sure she was never aware of. My father called her “Stragnes”. Far from being a slight to her, it was a loving term, for my father and she had a very strong bond. He recognized her great faith and she saw the same in him, for all his flaws. They kept up a correspondence through the years, with Sister sending him many religious articles, books and prayer cards. She encouraged his faith and he stayed true to it until the end. My mother also has a number of letters from her beloved Aunt that refer to when they were both in Halifax and mom used to visit her.
The thing I remember most about Sister Agnes, was her skin. It was flawless. She had soft, smooth, pale skin that looked like a baby’s bottom, it was that supple. I think being a nun suited her. I think when you serve God, you are free of the cares of life that mark you with deep lines and sorrowful expression. I believe that’s one of the reasons why I often entertained the notion of being a nun myself. I really did! (Mostly it was because I despaired of ever finding the right man and thought that it was a good alternative.)
Sister Agnes Eucharia died in 1991 at the Mother Berchmans Centre after surgery and being diagnosed with Cancer, but outlived all of her family, but two sisters: Clara, who died in 1997 and Margie, who followed ten years later. I’m certain she has been rewarded in heaven for the wonderful, unselfish and loving life she led here on earth. I hope she and my dad are together, praying for the rest of us.