Friday, December 14, 2012

Memories of Sr. Cornelia, OSH

From ES:  I've known Cornelia from the early 1970's. She and I waited together to process into chapel for my Life Profession at Vails Gate. The thing I most admired or appreciated about her was her sense – and practice – of fairness and justice.

From Benedicta:  I've known Cornelia since 1973. I enjoyed her sense of humor.

From Ellen Francis:  I've known Cornelia since I was a first-year seminarian at General Seminary in New York City in the fall of 1997. I most appreciated her forthrightness; there was never anything wishy-washy about her. When I was doing supply work at Church of Our Savior in Chinatown NYC, we used to have long talks on the bus going and coming from the church on Sunday mornings. I will also treasure the memories of taking her to the Parkinson's Support Group over the past several years.

From Carol Andrew:  I have known Cornelia for 42 years. The thing I most appreciated about her was her fairness. Also, in spite of disliking change, she presided over the biggest change we have ever had: from a single Superior to a Leadership Council.

From Rosina:
   I met Cornelia when I came to the community in December 1978. I appreciate her love for working with the downtrodden and those who have not. I enjoyed my time living with her in our house in Manhattan where we ministered to the Cambodian women in Brooklyn, people from China in Chinatown, and many others she taught English to. When we went to Kumasi every times she visited Ghana, we had a swell time participating in the churches – she felt no reservation. She also shared her love with me about her work in Nassau.
   I found Cornelia a teacher through and through with a passion to teach no matter how inadequate or unskilled the student might have been. She would find a way to reach the student. Her last words to me when I returned to Augusta as a CPE Supervisor, as she read the handbook that I had put together, were "Think how your father would be very proud of what you have done with yourself.” That touched me so much because my father was a school teacher/master for 61 years and appreciated great achievements of his students and especially his children. Cornelia and I bonded because of her love for Africa and "third world countries."

From Barbara Lee:  I’ve known Sr Cornelia since 1972 at Vails Gate. What I most appreciated about her was her peaceful, prayerful, and wise presence and knowing that I could trust her.

From Grace:
   I have lived in the Order for 3 years with Cornelia, and she was the sister who did my behavioral assessment before entering as a postulant. She was surprised with one of my answers to her questionnaire which asked: what is one of your strengths? I said listening. She said "no one had answered like that before." In her last weeks and whenever I would visit her at The Place at Martinez, she would always ask when I was starting CPE school. She was very supportive of my ministry and education process. I can still hear her asking, “When does your school start again?” I have such wonderful memories of the two of us buying cokes from the vending machine and sitting on the front porch of The Place watching the clouds and rainstorms blow in.
   We would take walks, and she would tell me what it was like to be the Superior of OSH. It was unfortunate that she could not take the trip to the Bahamas with me last January 2012 due to her hospitalization in November 2011. She is greatly missed by me and by the Bahamian Associates, who send their condolences as well.

From Mary Lois:  I’ve known Cornelia for 20 years. She was a role model for me and always available with help and advice.

From Linda Elston:
   I made my first visit to OSH in Vails Gate in 2001. Cornelia was out of town so I did not meet her until my aspirant visit in early 2002. Her first words to me were, “Oh, you’re back,” in a rather harsh voice. I wasn’t sure about this lady until she conducted an interview with me during that visit. There I experienced a compassionate Cornelia. The first words out of her mouth were a recognizing that my parents had died two days apart from one another. I felt her empathy. Five months later I entered the Order, and once Cornelia learned I was a hard worker, it was evident she liked me.
   My memories of Cornelia, until recently, are mostly funny. One winter morning maybe in 2003, I was sacristan and setting up the chapel in the dark. The snow had frozen our two big bells, so I brought my big bowl bell into the chapel to try it out. Bong, bong, bong! The next thing I heard was a very loud “Who is that?!” I couldn’t see her, but Cornelia was sitting in back of the chapel, and I had unknowingly interrupted her prayer time.
   Fast-forwarding to the last six weeks of Cornelia’s life, I had the scary (to me) task of being Cornelia’s primary medical proxy. I didn’t know what treasured opportunities that would give me – three of them, in particular.
   About six weeks before her death, Cornelia and I went to Yo Pizza, our favorite Monday lunch hang-out. She got such a kick out of getting out and about and was very much her Cornelia self in spite of the effects that Parkinson’s had on her mind. One week before she died, I visited Cornelia at the nursing home, and she was busily packing, thinking that the sisters were moving back to Vails Gate, so of course she was getting ready, too. She was SO happy at her work. Then, she stopped and looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m going home.” My heart almost stopped, and I responded, “Cornelia, sometimes that sounds really good to me too.” I believe something in her knew that she was about to truly “go home.”
   Cornelia got ambulanced to the hospital ER four days before she died. I met her there. The next three hours I will never forget. Cornelia let me massage her feet and give her a little healing touch like I used to, and we talked in our straight-forward way just like Cornelia and I always talked. And of course, she joked with the nurse and doctor. Her humor was a real part of her.
   One of the most unexpected encounters I had with Cornelia was about a year before I made my Life Vow in the Order. I was struggling with the decision and talking with Cornelia about it. Cornelia suggested I just try it for a couple of years. I nearly fell out of my chair that someone would offer a freedom like that.

From Ann Prentice:  I met Cornelia during my aspirant visit in February 1990, just after my 50th birthday. She said OSH had been hoping not to accept anyone over 40! After that she was unfailingly ENCOURAGING about my vocation "through all the changes and chances of this life."

From Ruth:  I have many memories about Cornelia, but what I remember most clearly and as I told her – When she was Superior, besides doing a very fine job with its inherent responsibilities, she took very good care of her own spiritual needs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Proper 11B, 2012, Sermon by Miriam Elizabeth, n/OSH

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
June 22, 2012
Preached in the chapel of the Order of St. Helena, Augusta GA

“Love one another as I have loved you. Start with the people in this room.”  We heard those words from our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, at General Convention several days ago.  I heard her words and thought, “I think I need to start smaller.  Maybe with the people in my family or the people I live with.”  Then I thought, “I think I need to start smaller than that.”
So I began to wonder what might happen if we started with ourselves – loving ourselves – loving parts or wholes of our own selves that are difficult or different; parts that we think are disappointing or ugly or even contemptible?  What might happen if we start with the parts that we’ve circumcised from ourselves?  You know, the bits we’ve left behind because claiming them and carrying them around is too much trouble, too much work, too dirty or just too much.
What if we gathered up those bits of ourselves, those bits we’ve declared alien and unwelcome– the prejudice we left in the grocery line, the anger we dropped in the laundry room, the grief from the house meeting, the fear from the dark night – what if we gathered them up in a crowd and had compassion on them?  What might happen if we loved those parts of ourselves?
And what if we gathered those bits along with the other bits? You know, gathered the bits that are easier to name and claim – the compassion we left sitting in the refectory, the song we dropped in the cloister, the joy in the dance, the authenticity of heart laying on a prayer desk?  If we gathered up all the pieces we hold dear, and the pieces we hold with disdain or contempt, and even those we’ve intentionally cut off and left buried someplace; I wonder could we love them all together?  And what might happen if we do?
What if we trusted Jesus to join all the bits together into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God?  That IS the promise, but our trust is the question.  Can we love ourselves and by doing so love God?
I believe we can.  And when I forget that; when I lose track of the depth of the mystery that makes that possible, I reach for the stories and I remember.  I remember a young girl whose “yes” changed the world.  I remember one who knew the heat and loneliness of the desert and the cool waters of baptism.  I remember one who had compassion on the crowd.  I remember one who proclaimed peace to those far off and those near.  I remember the One who revives my soul.
And in that remembering, I also begin to be re-membered of my own self, and the bits I’ve left along the way become part of me again and hope rises in my heart; hope that in loving ourselves we might better love one another and live into the fullness of the reconciled life. 
So, love yourself – all of yourself; for when we do, we will love God, in whose image we are made; and when we love God, we cannot help but treat our neighbor differently.  And that is Good News.