There was a Sister whom I first met when I came here as a 14-year-old to our highschool, Mary Help of Christians Academy. Her name was Sr. Christine. She was an older Sister, and always handed out napkins to the students at lunch time. It was a simple act, and helped move the lunch line a little faster. But Sr. Christine didn’t just hand out a napkin, she handed out a good thought. She would often tell me she was praying for me, and that I could find my vocation. What a beautifully simple way to open my young heart to the call of God.
While I was visiting our community at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, IL, Sr. Christine had a stroke and passed away. I had even spoken to her the day before I left, and she assured me she was praying for my mission of promoting vocations.
Here are the remarks our Mother Provincial, Sr. Karen, shared after her funeral:
“Many times people ask me how I understood God’s plan for me. One thing I knew: nothing in the world could satisfy my longings for a love that was as infinite as the sky and as limitless as the ocean….”
Such are the sentiments of Sr. Christine. Always the artist. Artist in her words here, artist with color, artist in her handiwork, artist in her response to God’s call, artist in her relationships that were permeated with His goodness. A life of beauty which wove that love of God through our lives, through our province, through her family, her friends, and the young.
Born in Borkenwirthe Germany on July 27, 1918, Sr. Christine grew up in a close-knit Catholic family of a deep, practical sense of piety. Across the years Sr. Christine witnessed her parents’ example of faith, tender devotion to Our Lady, and their courage in dealing with the sufferings and losses of war and their unfailing trust in God. Sr. Christine always took great inspiration from them.
How did this little girl turn to someone so great that would span the globe and capture hearts, building, creating, beautifying, and transforming the spaces and people that came near her?
It was her great heart. The heart of a missionary. Her 8th grade teacher, she writes, had a great influence on her choice of vocation. When she heard Christine tell her of her desire, she cultivated it, allowing the color and shape of her missionary dream to take shape.
One day Chrisitne found a holy card of Don Bosco. He had been unknown to her, but this “apostle of abandoned youth,” as the holy card described, became a springboard of her prayer. And on the day she was introduced to the Salesian Sisters, their simplicity, their joyfulness, and their way of dealing with the young brought her to the decision, “Yes, Lord!” Her spiritual director gave his prophetic blessing: Go! As a Salesian Sister the whole world is open to you!”
God’s working in my life has puzzled me in many ways. His Will was certainly not mine. Looking back … I see God’s love woven through all my life as a thread of spun gold, enhancing every moment and giving meaning to each event.”
Sr. Christine was a truly great missionary. Overcoming the perils of World War II, and patient on God’s plan, she made her way to the United States in 1950. So capable, so generous, so accustomed to take on whatever obedience was asked of her, she spent her years answering the needs of our works for the young from California, to Montreal, to here in New Jersey. Looking at her story, you see clearly someone who could be counted on for the serious and urgent eventualities that came up in the province. A woman of deep deep and simple faith, she poured herself out in her characteristic loving creativity, building the future of the province in her delicate, motherly kindness as the Superior in the houses of formation, as economer, or as the overseer of new constructions. With great balance, she spent her energies each day without fanfare and without ever losing sight of her original purpose. She led by example.
Once, mid school year, she was called out of community in southern California to the north to oversee the construction of Corralitos. With great tranquility she packed her things and prepared for the work by learning how to drive so that she could travel daily to the construction site. She followed the work and attended to the details, scraping the new paint off the windows and sewing the curtains by hand for the windows. Within a few months, the ambitious project was completed; but she was called back to the East, never to return again to California. She picked up and moved to her next mission with serenity, humility and grace.
At another moment, when she returned to North Haledon from a 3 month course in Rome for those in Formation, a surprised greeted her there. Obedience asked her to leave for Montreal to substitute as Animator of a community there. She says she felt like a missionary in the dead of a Canadian winter. The Parish meetings required various languages. “After some considerable time,” she writes, “I felt completely at home and ready to do the social work and home visiting as planned, when, I received a call from Mother Josephine Carini to return to New Jersey, to Mary Help to serve as the economer.” Again, without thought of self, without lament at this sudden interruption to the momentum and work she had just finished to prepare for, she moved back to Jersey.
Like an artist who follows the inspirations and promptings of the beauty around her, Sr. Christine left her mark in every type of work as it was needed. Director of Religious Ed, assistant in the fledgling youth center in Tampa, teacher, principal, economer, sacristan, assistant in the cafeteria, in the locker section. You name it; she did it. Always with availability, unassuming cheerfulness, heart, precision, and faith. Her artwork is still treasured and seen in our chapels. Already in her eighties, she was caught still climbing the 12 foot ladder to attach one of her signature banners in North Haledon. Until her last moments, Sr. Christine worked her stokes of love as she sat crafting her Easter greetings in her styled penmanship to her family, friends and her adopters who were like family to her.
A treasured and inspiration masterpiece of God’s goodness to us she was. An authentic religious who gave without measure and without condition. Sr. Christina says, “His grace has made possible what human limitations were not able to accomplish…. What a privilege to have been chosen by God’s mercy to be a living stone in the monument Don Bosco wanted to offer to Mary, the Help of Christine as a token of Thanksgiving!…. My mind and heart embrace with humble love and appreciation all who have crossed my path or have shared with me these years of Salesian life..my dear family, my past and present animators, my sister FMA, students, benefactors, adopters and friends.”
In the same writing, as if knowing the season of her passage to Heaven, she says, “It is time now to meet HIM the RISEN ONE, the only focus in my Salesian Mission. With Mary, my dear Mother, who has always been my confidant, guide, and support, I will sing: FIAT! MAGNIFICAT! ALLELUIA!”
Thank you, dear Sr. Christine, for the strong and beautiful way you have given to us: a life given completely to that God, that Love that is as infinite as the sky and limitless as the ocean, a life that has spun that gold you speak of… and that enhanced our lives as well. Pray for us and allow us always to pull those same beautiful threads through our lives as we continue our journey towards Him! * * *