05 April 2011

The Drama Continues

Part III of the on-going narrative of Sister Ann Catherine Rigdon:

She mastered the rules immediately upon entering, which was unusual because at the time the sisters of our monastery had not yet received the rule books from the Visitation order, and the rules our sisters had adopted were more rigorous. “There were more fasts, less sleep, more frequent disciplines, more austerities, and fewer accommodations.” Ann Catherine immediately took on the harshest and most tedious drudge work, never sparing herself and putting up with cold, heat, and inconvenience as though she didn’t even feel it. She often would stay up at night working (which was itself against the rule), and she was good at all types of work. Despite her “modesty and unalterable meekness,” she did not seem to have a high opinion of herself. Other sisters said that she was marked by obedience, patience, mortification, “admirable simplicity,” and a childlike heart so that she did not even reflect on what she was told to do. For example, if it was her task to call the sisters to prayer in the morning, she would rise frequently in the night to check the clock. Although she knew there was no need to be fully clothed if just checking the clock, she was also mindful of the rule that one must never leave a cell without being clad and veiled, so she was always dressed for these excursions.

One day the Bishop commanded the sisters to perform good works for the souls in purgatory, which of course they did. But during the night Ann Catherine woke, worried that she had not done enough, and that perhaps some poor soul was suffering because of her neglect. She rose, went to a convenient place, and picked up a discipline (an instrument, usually cord or metal, that was used for penance). She used it unmercifully on herself. When morning was come, “she could not conceal her fatigues and pain.” Leonard Neale saw her and asked what ailed her, and she was forced to tell him. His “punishment” was to forbid her to ever use that instrument of penance again. He also deprived her of a rough hair shirt that had weakened her constitution. Since she was forbidden to use those familiar implements of mortification, she took advantage of something out of the Bishop’s reach, and she never told him of it. “Do not blame her for this, dear sisters,” wrote the nun who penned her biography, “for it seems that she was inspired to act thus...” and the nun went on to explain that Ann Catherine was silently enduring violent headaches, which seemed to stand in place of the earlier physical acts. Although the Bishop lived for several more years, she never mentioned these to him, or to anyone else except her last director, who did not feel bound keep silent after her death. She claimed that in one of her dreams she was comforted by the late Bishop, who said that by making her petition for mortification she had “rendered herself most agreeable to God.” After she was Superior, she suffered so much from headaches that the sisters asked her permission to make a novena for her relief, or to give her some remedies. They urged her to wear St. Bobola’s cap, a reference for which our archivist has not found the meaning, but she refused, saying it would be a sin to beg to be relieved from pain which had freed her from greater torment.

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