Growing up Catholic, in an intensely Irish-Catholic family, I had no shortage of extraordinary role models right within my big, extended family.
Two amazing Catholic women
My Great Aunt Ria (Sr. Marie Aimee of Jesus), my maternal grandmother’s sister, was a Carmelite nun with a sweet, sunny disposition whose gratitude for every little thing seemed to me to be one of her most prominent traits. As a cloistered, contemplative sister in Carmel, she didn’t have a ton of visitors or a ton of talking time each day (unless it was the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, as I recall, which allowed a lot more conversation than usual). She and her religious sisters lived more simply than I could imagine, slept on mattresses of hay, and were extremely prayerful. And yet sometimes she and other sisters in her monastery would “go on retreat“. As a teenager, I’m sure I thought someone was pulling my leg when I was told that they did so. From what I could tell, Aunt Ria and the other sisters in her community were always on retreat.
My Aunt Ria was one of my heroes; she made a life of prayer and sacrifice appear not only effortless, but natural (in the same way that a ballerina puts years of training into making that dance form look effortless, I imagine). She was down to earth and a wonderful pen pal. Her ego did not seem to be part of the picture. When she was very old, in her middle 90s, she became forgetful. One of the sisters in her community said to her that “Our Lord is taking your memory”. To that, she replied with complete sincerity, “He can take anything he wants“. She meant it, too….Her life was God’s.