As we continue our historical series, we share some biographical information about our Sister Elizabeth Augustina Greenwell.
This sister, who was born c1786, had a more difficult childhood than most. She fell when she was 18 months old and broke her arm and leg. Doctors removed a bone from each limb, causing them to grow out of proportion to the rest of her body, and she remained lame all her life. The monastery sisters later deemed this disfigurement a blessing in disguise, however, for they credited it with preserving her innocence in childhood. Unlike the other sisters, who always seemed to be more pious than the other children in their youth, this sister's piety developed only as she became older.
She became known for charity to the poor and the sick, and for getting up to pray every morning at 4 a.m. (typical in the monastery but not in private life). Before she entered she did not enjoy worldly pleasures as much as her sisters did, preferring to be alone or spending her time working for the Church. She went to confession and was allowed to take communion every eight days, a rare privilege in that era, making her an example of piety in the world.
She petitioned to enter this monastery, was admitted, and received the white veil from our founder, Archbishop Leonard Neale. She had a sweet, easy temper and obliging ways, and she carefully concealed her extreme weakness and pain, participating in all the duties of the community as much as she was able. She was given the rank of choir sister, meaning she was educated and could read or recite Latin to chant the Divine Office.
She contracted tuberculosis that caused incontinence, and faintness, and she coughed up blood. She moved to the infirmary of the monastery where she remained for the rest of her life. During her last six weeks she was short of breath and could not even lie down. Too much sitting caused dropsy in her feet and legs. All of this she bore with great patience, expressing her gratitude to others for the smallest services. As she grew worse she asked for the entire community to assemble in the infirmary, and she begged their pardon for all her failings. She received the Viaticum, and she often called upon God during her suffering. She was in extreme pain, but exhorted herself to patience by saying, "My spouse suffered more for me." She also asked the infirmarian to speak and read to her of Christ's sufferings.
She died on April 14, 1820 at age 34.