For All the Generations of Nuns That Labored in the Vineyards of the Lord, “Sr. Anne’s Hands” is a Testament to Your Humanity!
Sister Anne’s Hands
By Marybeth Lorbiecki; illustrated by Wendy Bopp
Several years ago saw the first ever National Catholic Sisters Week commenced that is intended to celebrate the generations of sisters who have taught in schools, served in nursing homes, orphanages and hospitals throughout the United States.
Generally, they were the glue that, in many ways, held the institution of the Catholic Church together seamlessly. And they did this all with a quiet determination and dedication with little recognition other than the conviction that their lives and the thousands they touched, were a testament to the faith they believed in.
Sadly, their numbers are dwindling as young people choose other avenues of service.
And, with the recent horrific admissions by Pope Francis of decades of abuse of many nuns at the hands of priests, and even bishops, I felt it compulsory to laud the work of these generations of women that labored in the so-called “vineyards” for years on end with little recompense or recognition.
Playwright James Patrick Shanley, who penned both the Tony Award winning play “Doubt,” and the movie of the same name, depicted the verbal battle between the popular priest, Father Flynn, who in some ways tries to proffer to students a less restrictive and human approach in the church, though his motives remain murky, and the principal, the termagant-like Sr. Aloysius, who functions by a set of hard and fast rules with sheer instinct, born of years of experience, who feels an unalloyed duty to protect the children of her school at all costs.
Mr. Shanley modeled the character of Sr. James after his first grade Sister of Charity teacher, Sr, Margaret McEntee and as the credits rolled on the movie version of “Doubt,” it ends with….. “This film has been dedicated to Sr. Margaret McEntee.”
And to come full circle in the blog, coincidentally, Sr. Margaret’s vocation first sprang to mind after her positive experiences with her second grade nun called…… Sr. Anne!
The secrecy and silence of the church concerning the previously mentioned crimes against nuns is untenable. The International Union of Superiors General that represents 2,400 Superiors General of orders around the world has spoken about this, as well as Women Church World, an insert in L’Osservatore Romano which is an Italian newspaper founded in 1861. Its aim is to… “provide complete and accurate information on international affairs and the cultural debates and events happening in the Church on every continent.
Perhaps a children’s book blog is an less than perfect place to highlight this. But anything that affects the lives of children, and those who care for them in a culture where silence, plus a lack of honesty and openness in the face of evil, too often accepted as the norm, should have a place for discussion.
And, so it is here.
All of this put me in mind of these woman via a wonderful picture book I remember called, “Sister Anne’s Hands” by Marybeth Lorbiecki, with illustrations by Wendy Bopp.
Sister Anne is an African-American sister teaching in a parochial school in the 60’s. Her teaching and storytelling methods are inventive and interesting as Wendy Bopp’s illustrations portray Sister Anne’s students held in rapt attention when she speaks.
Just imagine how hard that was to pull off with 50 something children in an average class at that time! The picture book’s story is told through the eyes of young Anna, a student in Sister Anne’s class who is confused when she overhears her parents say, “I don’t know how a woman of her color is going to survive.”
Sister Anne confronts the concrete meaning of that overheard phrase when a paper airplane sails through the air in her classroom with the following words written on it:
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Don’t let Sister Anne
Get any black on you.
The racial slur from a young unformed mind, obviously influenced by others, has Sister Anne react with a calm demeanor as she says she “needs quiet time to think about this.”
And Sister Anne opts to react to the racial discrimination in her young charges by informing them of her own experiences and heritage that causes some parents to withdraw their children from the class. But the children who remain are the fortunate ones. They are the recipients of the wisdom and talented teaching of a wonderful young woman who has an innate love for the young minds that come into her sphere for one special year.
Young Anna in Sister Anne’s Hands, and it seems, the author herself, are both lucky enough to have come under the influence of a dedicated sister whose persona is only symbolic of the thousands like her. Wendy Bopp’s beautiful art work coupled with Ms. Lorbiecki’s view on a very contemporary issue of the 60’s is beautifully executed.
And in that same vein, this book put me in mind of a Franciscan sister I once met who recently passed away. She became the teacher of a young African-American student named Clarence Thomas; the very same Clarence Thomas that went on to become a Supreme Court Justice. Her dedication to the teaching of young African- American students at a time in our country’s history when it was, to say the least, frowned upon, was both heartfelt and heroic.
This sister, and others of her order, put the education of ALL children first. Her core belief, put into action, was that every student deserved to have an equal chance at reaching his or her goals, and her entire life was in the service of that belief.
So, to ALL the Sister Annes of this world, and especially to the sister that I just mentioned, “Thank you! For the world will not see your like again.”
And, by the way, I had a Sister Anne-like teacher too in Grade 3 who was a Sister of Charity.
Her name was Sr. Mary Michele.