Timing Is Everything
It didn’t surprise us when Sister Mel Pierre took a turn for the worse and entered hospice while staying at the Catholic Charities run Holy Family Villa in Illinois. For three years she offered herself to the Lord as a holocaust for priests in the unique form of suffering that is dementia, while receiving outstanding and loving care from the Sisters and staff there. [The day she arrived, in her typical New York humor, upon learning many of the residents also shared her condition, she quipped, “Oh good! So we can all for-get together!”] But the Providential timing of her passing is a pattern we’ve recognized. We had already been through this in our first cemetery move, transporting the remains of all our deceased in New Mexico to Benton, Tennessee and experiencing the death of our last pioneer Handmaid, Mother David Marie, the very day Bishop Stika arrived back in Knoxville with 33 Handmaids’ cremains…just in time to transform the planned Memorial Mass and interment ceremony into a Funeral Mass as well.
Perhaps her guardian angel let Sister Mel Pierre know that not only had the Benton cemetery been transferred to Blessed Sacrament Cemetery at Cor Jesu Monastery in New Market, but that the remaining five Handmaids living in Illinois were all going to Tennessee to join their Sisters this May. How could she miss out on this great gathering? So, God allowed her to come by calling her home peacefully on April 28th, 2016. She would surely have been satisfied with the knowledge that she would soon join her Handmaid family again in the Diocese of Knoxville. Just as surely, she would have been rather surprised to know that her Funeral Mass would be celebrated by Bishop Richard Stika and concelebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali and Father Patrick Resen. We are so grateful for their prayers and ministry and kindness to come and bid farewell to our Sister this way.
Transformation Into A Mass Chapel…and back into a Chapter Room
Just as our dear Bishop, Cardinal, and Father sacrificed to make this beautiful day possible, so also did many others including the Knights of Columbus, members of our Handmaid Advisory Team, and the Bridges Funeral Home staff and workers. One pressing difficulty was that since there is no monastery built yet, a monastery-sized chapel was lacking. Our renovated two car garage had become a daily Mass Chapel and was perfect for the Divine Office and our Holy Hours of adoration but was too small to accommodate a casket, let alone pall bearers, funeral home staff, and guests. The only other structure on the property with a room large enough for a Funeral Mass and viewing was the former lodge, now Cor Jesu Monastery. With some innovating, and a great deal of labor and furniture transport, our “chapter room” area became a chapel with the final touches still being polished and put into place an hour before Mass was set to begin. Throughout the preparations, Our Lord continued to shower us with little signs of his loving Providence: when the mountain laurel we all assumed was dying, suddenly it began blooming two days before the funeral, providing huge blossoms to place near the Pieta in the “new” improvised chapel. We peacefully worked, cleaned, sweated, and gratefully accepted the help and elbow grease of so many kind and generous souls. For example, the pall bearers not only carried Sister to her resting place but also carried the altar, prie-dieus, chairs, benches, tables, candles, vases, flowers, sound system components, lighting, cables, cords etc etc. Others could be found jumping in to help with kitchen laundry, cooking, chopping and preparing whenever there was a minute to spare – all of which they eagerly and respectfully did. And when the day was over and ceremonies complete, so many leant yet another helping hand moving furniture and appointments (yes, the altar again) back to the daily Mass Chapel.
Thank you Priests of Christ: Bishop Richard F. Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and Father Patrick Resen
Thank you members of the Knights of Columbus, Handmaid Advisory Team, and Guests: Jimmy and Valerie Dee, Ron Henry, Mike Wills, Herstle Cross, Trey Benefield, Ralph Herbert, Jennifer Gozwitz, and Gisela Chaparro. Special thanks to Jimmy Dee for getting the needed additions, like lighting, in place and Scott Maentz for providing the photography and video.
Thank you Martin Bartling, Mike Smith, Tim and the entire staff and work crews of the Bridges Funeral Home. Theirs is the humble job to see that everything goes flawlessly while they blend into the background. Yet we can’t allow their desired invisibility to pass without commenting on their superb touch that marked all they did with such kindness and skill.
We celebrated the gift that was Sister Mel Pierre and her life given for priests. In return, we once again received gifts: the very people we were blessed to have at Sister’s Funeral. Our gratitude. May God bless you all abundantly.