Happy feast of Saint Valentine to those of the Roman calendar.
For the day, I offer a fitting account of love. Two years ago, I mentioned the beautiful story of Franciscan (and twin) Brothers Julian and Adrian Riester who died the same day at the same hospital in “Franciscan Brothers for Life.” (The linked Buffalo News article in that post is currently unavailable as that site restructures its archives, but Free Republic has a copy.) Last month, I read a similar piece about the Wheeler sisters in Albany’s Times Union: “Sisters were Sisters, inseparable to the end.” Five of the seven Wheeler sisters became nuns. The last two died a day apart at the same retirement home last month.
The Wheelers grew up in a family with seven siblings, all girls, including identical twins. The growing family moved from Chicago to the Bronx, where the girls were raised. Five entered religious life, one as a Religious of the Sacred Heart nun and four with the Daughters of Charity. The five nuns taught and lived in the Capital Region for much of their careers. Two did not enter the sisterhood, married and had children.
The five nuns vacationed together each summer at a small cottage beside a pond on the Daughters of Charity property off Route 378. They spent the mornings sewing new habits and bathing suits. They went swimming in the afternoon, followed by reading hour. They favored dense political biographies.
“They did everything together and if you met one Wheeler sister, you knew all the Wheeler sisters,” Donovan said.
None took a vow of silence. “They were big talkers, real chatterers,” said Sister Irene Brassard, who is Donovan’s assistant.
As their family’s final two surviving sisters, Sister Jean Marie, 98, the oldest and most outgoing, vowed to look after her younger and rather reticent sister, Sister Elaine, 96.
“I’ve always watched out for her and it’s easier for me to make friends, so I hope I live longer,” Sister Jean Marie told Donovan.
Despite losing one eye in a car accident and becoming profoundly deaf in recent years, Sister Jean Marie tried to reach her goal but fell just short. She died Thursday. Sister Elaine died Friday.
The sisters stipulated that they did not want to be roommates and lived in separate rooms at Saint Louise House, just down the hall from each other. They kept a nightly ritual and gathered for milk and cookies or a few chocolates at 8 p.m., before bidding each other good night.
Their differences were well established. Jean Marie liked milk chocolate and Elaine preferred dark chocolate.
When Sister Jean Marie had difficulty swallowing solid food and was told to give up her nightly sweets, Sister Elaine began sneaking them for her. A stash of cookies was found in Sister Elaine’s room after she died.
May the memory of Sisters Jean Marie and Elaine be eternal!