There she was, right there on the front page of my morning paper. Was I dreaming? Did I just wake up from a decades-old sleep, or did I die in my sleep last night and find myself in heaven?

No, she was real, this real-life flesh-and-blood Catholic nun from my past, all decked out in the official ancient habit, complete with the bandeau worn under the coif and that familiar spotless white wimple from neck to chest, and the long flowing black cape down the back. OMG — which in this case, of course, means “Oh my goodness.”

I couldn’t tell from photographer David Leaming’s beautiful shot whether or not Sister was wearing the long chain of wooden black beads, but if she were truly a sister of the order of St. Joseph, as she appeared to be, she surely was.

I’d like to pretend that I still remember the names of all those adornments but no, I had to email my nun friend, my last contact with the past, at the convent in St. Louis, for the details.

Once upon a time I did know them. I learned them from my beloved Sister Rosanna, while sitting on a bench in an old white gazebo on an autumn afternoon so long ago. Now it seems like a movie I once saw.

All of this stems from writer Peter McGuire’s richly detailed article on the grand opening of the newly blessed St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Oakland.


By now, we’ve all read the details about how a small band of the faithful, seeking a reunion with what they see as the traditional Catholic Church came together, with the help of Waterville’s Mayor Nick Isgro. This band of brothers and sisters has come to form this sedevacantist congregation on Church Street in a quiet little town in Maine.

“Sedevacantist?” Now, ain’t that a mouthful? I’ve repeated it over and over again ever since I read it, and I still can’t get my lips around it.

It’s a word that Sister Rosanna didn’t teach me on that autumn afternoon long ago, and a good thing she didn’t; I had enough trouble remembering “bandeau.”

But if you’re curious, you can Google it. I’m not interested in getting out there in the high holy weeds of Mother Church. I can’t even figure out how the current Republican House works.

I’m only here today to share with you how I felt when I saw that nun in full regalia with those glasses and that familiar no-nonsense look on her face.

It’s been decades since I’ve seen such an image.


The movies of my youth were full of cinema nuns in full battle dress, but somehow, Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, Debbie Reynolds and her guitar and Sally Field’s silly flying nun failed to stir joy in my heart.

However, I think Ingrid Bergman came the closest to the real thing. From my seat in the second row of the Melba Theater, I saw her singing in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.” I almost made the sign of the cross. I kept that loving feeling, until I saw her liplocked with Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca.” I think I averted my eyes.

I’ve had conversations with so many Catholics over the years about the good sisters, and I seem to be the only one who never lived in terror of them. Maybe it was because most of my waking hours were spent with them on their home ground.

I still hear horror stories from friends and colleagues of being bashed with that infamous ruler. It’s almost legendary, but it never happened to me.

And should this newly formed Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church at St. Theresa expand its reach into classrooms, I doubt whether the fabled ruler will be resurrected. We’re too deep into the 21st century. I can’t imagine a kid getting smacked on the wrist with an iPad.

Still, despite this congregation’s refusal to recognize Pope Francis, the new rock star of the Holy See, I wish them well on their journey back into the past.

Dominus vobiscum.

Editor’s note: The nun J.P. Devine writes about is a member of the Marian Sisters of Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (also known as CMRI, which is for the Latin name Congregatio Mariae Reginae Immaculatae). St. Theresa is now part of the CMRI congregation, which was founded in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and has two other New England churches besides St. Theresa — one in Stoneham, Massachusetts, and one in Warwick, Rhode Island.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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