Sister Mary Pastry and the Virgin Mary’s Appearance

French Fruit Tarte

As regular visitors to Chesterton, Indiana‘s European Market (www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com) on Saturday’s, we’ve seen the pastry stand for years, nestled among the fruit and vegetable stands and directly across from the cheese stand.  It’s a curiosity in the heat of summer, staffed by a nun in full black habit and displaying an array of delicious French pastries, brioche, croissants, fruit tarts and the like.   When we passed by the stand and my kids asked, “Who is that nun?” I said the first thing that came to mind, “Oh, why that’s Sister Mary Pastry,” and immediately felt the heavy burden of Catholic guilt for making fun of a nun in full habit.  The name stuck.

When we visited the market last, I brought Mack my older son who usually prefers to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  As we passed the pastry stand, he paused to inspect the goodies and that’s when we realized that Sister Mary Pastry was French but spoke English well.  Excited, Mack turned to me and said, “Mom, speak to her in French.”  I hesitated, not wanting to pull out my limited French from study abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence from years ago.

“Oh, you speak French?” Sister smiled and we began a conversation in mixed French and English.  “How did you come to sell pastries at the market?” I asked.  Sister’s story unfolded.  Fraternite Notre Dame (www.fraternitenortredame.org), a French-based order with a mission of serving the poor, has its mother house in Chicago’s underserved Austin neighborhood.  As a way to raise funds for the order, the nuns began baking pastries to sell in the Chicagoland area.  The proceeds support their soup kitchen and other ministries for the poor. 

Jean Marie, the order’s bishop, is a mystic with internal stigmata.  Sister told me that in 1977, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jean Marie with spiritual messages to pass along to the faithful.  Now, on the 14th of every month, the Bishop celebrates the Mass of the Apparition at 5 a.m. at their Chicago church, 502 N. Central Avenue.  During the mass, Virgin Mary appears to the Bishop, delivering messages, graces and often miraculous healings.

“Would you like to come to our mass?” Sister asked me.  “Please come.  You would like it.”

The next mass is July 14th.  I plan to attend.

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Ash Wednesday Penance

Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...

Image via Wikipedia

Arriving back to the office after receiving my ashes at 8:15 a.m. mass at my children’s school, the dark oily cross on my forehead reminded my colleague G that she too needed to get her Ash Wednesday ashes as the Lenten season started.  “How was mass?” she asked as we began our workday.  “Fine.  It’s always good to go to the all-school mass when my kids have their all-school mass,” I said, then lamented, “Well, except that I didn’t get my regular pew this morning.”  “You mean, you sit in a particular pew at church?” G inquired.

I laughed.  Of course I did.  But once again, what seemed intuitive to me for so many years was a revelation to someone else.  “Oh, you have to blog about this one,” G said when I explained my usual practice.

The truth is that I don’t like to kneel.  More pointedly, it hurts to kneel after a certain amount of time.  It’s something about the skin on my burned knee, which may be too thin, too physically addled or just too banged up from all the surgeries.  It’s another area where I need to make do and in the case of going to church, it means avoiding the pews with  in the front of the seating bench .  I’ve been doing this so long it doesn’t seem novel  anymore, just routine coping.  To get along, go along.

At St. Josaphat, the church is dark and cavernous, never falling prey to the 1970s “modern” church movement that carpeted so many structures and took away their original details.  Here, the original, beautiful tile floors are intact, as are the original wooden pews with pull-down kneelers in the front of the seating bench in almost all the rows.  As you enter, the church has a wide vertical wide aisle all the way to the altar.  Mid-way through the church another wide aisle cuts horizontally across.  It is here at this intersection that there is a row of pews with no kneelers.  When I go to church, that row becomes my usual spot.  No kneeler, no problem, no attention drawn to me because the people sitting in these rows cannot kneel.

On Ash Wednesday, the all-school mass meant there were 200 some children taking up the first rows of the church; adults found there spots in the back.  With a kneeler to contend with and people on either side of me, I simply did the modified kneel at the appropriate times in the mass — kneeling with the left knee while half-sitting on the edge of the pew so my right knee did not have to bear the weight.

My colleague G found this church practice of mine somewhere between amusing and awkward and odd.  “I wonder how many things you do like that,” she said, “Where you just adapt and don’t think about it anymore.”

I didn’t know the answer.  It’s something I think about now as I try to compile all the pieces of my story.