HOMILY FOR SISTER ANNE MARIE PAQUIN, January 30, 1987
Dr. Helen Williams was a poet and professer of English at Kansas State University. When she was 36 years old, she was told by her doctor that cancer had spread throughout her whole body. Although she was dying of the dreaded disease, she kept on teaching. She also kept on denying that she was a particularly brave and holy person. She even kept on showing her keen sense of humour. In fact, one of her last poems was ironically entitled "Terminal." Most people added another word to it, namely, "cancer" - terminal cancer.
Dr. Helen Williams did not intend it that way. True, a terminal is a place where buses, trains, and planes come to the end of their run. But it is also a place where travelers start on a journey. We go to an airport to see the planes take off as well as land. That was what Dr. Williams had in mind in her poem as she concludes, "But remember it is also a place of beginnings."
That is the thought we want to have this afternoon as we gather to pay our last respects to the bodily remains of Sister Anne Marie. True, she has come to the terminal of her earthly life, but we want to think of this moment as the beginning of another life— a life eternal with the angels and saints in heaven. Death is not the end of the line; it is the beginning of a brighter and better trip. The spark of grace that was so evident in Sister Anne Marie can now shine more splendidly in the light of the beatifie vision.
We all know how suddenly and unexpectedly Sister Anne Marie met her death. It was a shock for all of us. Yet on hindsight we can say that it could have been expected—she had a heart condition most of her life. But she never complained. Therefore, the shock was the greater. I myself was preparing for a Memorial Service at the Villa when the phone rang. I thought the name was a mistake. Could it be that Sister who took care of the sick and elderly had herself passed away? Didn't seem logical. Like Dr. Helen Williams, she knew her risks, but she literally worked right up to the end. How many of us would have had the same courage! And, like Dr. Williams, she kept showing a keen sense of humour. Sister enjoyed life. It was always fun to sit and visit with her.
I have had contact with hundreds of Sisters in my various ministries as chaplain, retreat master, spiritual director, and confessor. Before coming up to the diocese of Crookston to help out, I was chaplain to about 250 Dominican Sisters in southwestern Wisconsin for nearly three years. And I myself have three sisters who are nuns. Yet, in all truth and sincerity I can honestly say that I have never known or met a more gentle; devout, and dedicated religious than Sister Anne Marie. She loved her God, her community, her work, and all those she associated with. She was a deeply spiritual person as well. She had a special devotion to our Blessed Virgin Mary and her mother, Saint Anne. At a time when many Sisters had a choice to return to their baptismal names, Sister Anne Marie kept her religious name denoting her devotion to Saint Anne and the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the last years of her life she was especially concerned with the sick and the elderly. She had a beautiful way with them. I think they will miss her most. Frequently she would come to me after a meal or after Mass and say, "Won't you come and bless Sister so-and-so, she is having a bad day today." Then she would lead me to the Sister's room and we would say some prayers together and I would give the priestly blessing. It is indeed hard for me to think that I am having the Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Anne Marie. She has always been telling me, who was failing, who needed extra prayers. Now we are praying for the repose of her soul.
How appropriately the Gospel chosen for this Mass closes with the words, "Be on guard, therefore. The Son of God will come when you least expect him." We know not the day nor the hour. We must be always prepared. l'm sure Sister Anne Marie was. Her death may have been sudden, but with a life of service that she gave to the Sisters of St. Joseph for over sixty years, she couldn't help but be ready. l've no doubt about that.
Sister liked to use the expression, "Good enough.! l'm sure, one Sister suggested, that when she appeared before the gates of heaven, our Lord himself greeted her with the words, "Good enough, Sister!"
And I remember-reading in the life of St. Dominic, as he lay dying he noticed the tearful eyes of those who stood around him. He consoled them with the words, "Do not weep, beloved ones; do not sorrow that this frail body-goes. I am going where I can serve you better." I think the same can be said of Sister Anne Marie, "I am going where I can serve you better."
We'll miss Sister, her gentle smile, her calm composure, her cheery greeting. But we will never forget her in our prayers, Masses, and Communions. She was in truth the Sister for others. Now she can serve us better. Then we can say to her, "Good enough, Sister, and thank you! God bless you and keep you in the company of Mary and Anne in heaven for ever and ever." Amen.
Father Ray Ashenbrenner, O.P.
Chaplain of Marywood Residential Community