06 January 2011

More Treasures from the Archives

Our good friend -- and proprietor of "Down the Streetza Pizza" -- has provided us with another peek into the monastery archives for the second posting in our historical series.

Sister Ann Stanislaus Fenwick was born in St. Mary's County, Maryland, in 1756. More studious and prayerful than other children, she was an early reader who recited her prayers from memory. Around age 18 she began to teach poor children, instructing them in reading, writing, arithmetic, sewing, and catechism. Although she was typically meek, she had such a strong devotion to and respect for priests that "no one would have dared speak against a priest in her presence."

Sister was what we now call plus-sized (in their words "uncommon large"), and this distressed her to the point of abjection. She sometimes endured comments from strangers, and when she rode to Church on Sundays the cart had to be pulled by oxen because her weight strained the standard carriage. This made it difficult to enter religious life as early as she wished, because she required special assistance.

She finally appealed to her spiritual director, Archbishop Leonard Neale, founder of our Monastery. Although it was years before she was allowed to enter, she had made herself useful by assisting Neale in every office. "Nothing," the sister-biographer wrote, "could disturb her or put her out of her temper: her motto was the will of God." She finally entered this monastery sometime around 1800 at age 43 or 44.

Her biographer was a young nun who had grown up at the school and remembered her as a motherly figure to all the students, especially those who became sisters. The nuns believed there was something supernatural about her, and they often asked her to pray for them, during which prayers she would be "as immovable as a statue." Once on retreat "she was favoured with the sight of the state of her soul," which the sisters later interpreted as insight into the time and manner of her death.

Sometime during or after 1814 she developed what was then known as dropsy, a condition causing retention of fluid. She could not lie down or move without assistance and she suffered greatly, though reportedly without complaint. The sisters believed intimate union with God gave her the ability to predict her 1816 death the day before it occurred. Although they tried to care continuously for her, she was accurate that she would die alone, for she slipped away when a sister left just for a few minutes to receive Holy Communion. She was 60 years old.

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