Tracy Kemme, soon to make her vows as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, shares a moving reflection that bridges a span of over 60 years. (Global Sisters Report)
After Mass and breakfast at the Motherhouse one morning a few weeks ago, Sister Flo asked me to stop by her room with her; she had something to give me.
Florence Cremering has been a Sister of Charity for 70 years. She is 91 years young! Living on the Motherhouse property during the time of Novitiate, I’ve gotten to know her over breakfast chats and visits to her room. She is faithful, loving and wise as only a woman with such life experience could be. In her years of retirement, she has remained hope-filled about the future of our community and takes great delight in praying for those in discernment and formation. In fact, it’s speculated that once Flo starts praying for you, you are in trouble!
Although we are more than 60 years apart in age, we are united deeply in the charism of Charity. I treasure her as a mentor, friend and sister.
That particular morning, we walked together to her room on the assisted living hallway. She brought me over to her closet and took out a small pouch made of brightly-colored Peruvian fabric. She handed it to me, and I smiled.
“Thank you, Flo! This is beautiful!” I said, appreciative of her characteristic thoughtfulness.
“Look inside,” she responded, indicating that there was more to the gift.
I slid the tiny zipper over and saw a glint of silver within. Tenderly, I slipped out whatever was inside and placed it in the palm of my hand. It was a ring, and a very familiar one at that. I’ve seen it on Flo’s left hand since I first met her; it is the ring that she’s worn for much of her life as a Sister of Charity.
Almost dumbfounded, I looked up at her. “Flo . . . are you giving this to me?”
“Yes, it’s my gift to you for your vows this summer. I want you to have it,” she answered humbly.
“You wear this every single day!” I said in disbelief.
“I’m just so happy I have someone to give it to,” she reassured, with eyes that couldn’t be refused.
Our official community symbol is the medal or pin that we all wear; some sisters choose to wear a ring in addition as another sign of their commitment. A Sister of Charity of Cincinnati named Ann Christine Bessler crafted Florence’s ring and others like it in the 1970s. There are a limited number of these treasures, and sometimes they get passed onto someone new upon a Sister’s death. But here was Flo, right in front of me, gifting her ring to me freely. I was deeply, deeply touched.
I didn’t know what to say. How could I ever voice the profound gratitude pulsing in my heart?
As I drove downtown for ministry that morning, I smiled uncontrollably. Before walking into the office, I zipped the ring into an inside pocket of my purse and then double checked to make sure that it was zipped. Once at my desk, I pulled it out again to marvel at it. It is just lovely: a simple silver band with the letters “S” and “C” for Sisters of Charity and a cross in between – the initials of the congregation that has become my home and a symbol for Jesus, whom I will follow with my entire life.
That evening, I sat down to pray, clasping the ring and amazed at the events of the day. Then, I giggled for a moment. This is certainly not how I had pictured receiving a ring in my life. Earlier speculations always included a handsome man and smooching. Instead, it was a 91-year-old Sister, offering me perhaps the most precious gift anyone has ever given me. No, it was not what I expected! But, it was perfect. It was infinitely more beautiful than I could have conceived. My eyes filled with joyful tears.
I’m in awe when I consider all that Flo has lived wearing that ring. How many people has she touched, hugged, or blessed? How many hands has she held or pressed in hers, as she does so often to mine? How many kind notes and cards has she written? (She’s so good at that!) How many meals has she cooked and dishes has she washed? How many hands of cards has she played with her friends? How many times has she folded her hands in prayer or received the Eucharist wearing that ring?
What a full life she has lived and continues to live as a woman religious, so devoted to Jesus whom she loves profoundly and so selflessly committed to her vocation as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati.
I will be sincerely honored to wear Sister Flo’s ring, and I hope to live as faithfully as she, in my own time. Flo’s ring will remind me each day of the wonderful women from whom we inherit this mission and on whose shoulders we stand. In the ring is reflected the generosity and love shown to us by so many each day. I’ll be strengthened when I look at it, knowing the prayers that go with me, supported by all of our living sisters and associates and those watching over us in the communion of saints.
My fellow novice Andrea and I certainly know we don’t walk this path alone. God’s love flows through our history and our future, uniting every generation of sisters. Sr. Margie, 94, has given her ring to Andrea, with the same big-hearted kindness as Flo to me. A few weeks ago, the four of us got together in Margie’s room, and, over some Bud Lights and root beers, they shared stories of their rings. At the close of the special evening, we snapped this photo:
It is an image of sisterhood that is the heart of religious life. This bond is one of the many graces for which I will give thanks as I profess vows in less than a month. I open myself to this adventure of sacred surprises, like the gift of the ring, that will fill me and urge me forward in ways I never imagined.
[Tracy Kemme is a novice with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Author of the blog, Diary of a Sister-in-Training, Tracy is excited about the future of religious life! She has a background in Hispanic ministry, having served both in Ecuador and at the U.S.-Mexico border prior to novitiate.]