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Requiem for a Holy Nun

Sister Regina Rose, a woman who had given thousands upon thousands of children a Catholic education was consigned to a non-Catholic end.

(Image: Mateus Campos Felipe/Unsplash.com)

I am angry because I just found out that my fifth-grade nun died this past April, and no one from the motherhouse had the interest or courtesy to inform me. Sister Regina Rose went to God at the age of 108 (yes, 108!), with 90 of those years in consecrated life (yes, 90!).

Sister Regina was a tall, stately woman, proud of her Slovak heritage, in a religious community predominantly Irish, even oppressingly so. My mother was a full-time school volunteer (once the nuns got you on their radar screen, there was no escape); she had to visit all forty-five classrooms each morning to pick up the attendance slips. One morning, Sister Grace Gabriel, the principal, said to my mother, “Anne, you look sad and distracted today” (it was highly unusual in those days for Sisters to address parents by their given names, but my mother and she had formed a very close relationship). My mother replied, tearfully, “Sister, the doctor just told me that I have to have a hysterectomy. I don’t know if the Church permits this, and I am also very scared” (that was major surgery in those days).

“First of all, the Church permits it because it’s for a good purpose. Secondly, don’t be nervous. Go talk to Sister Regina. She had the procedure last year; she’s fine, and I’m sure she’ll be happy to help you” (this was also extraordinary because nuns never talked about “stuff” like that). Sister Regina did indeed guide my mother through the whole process.

Sister Regina became my fifth-grade teacher. A few months into the year – with over seventy kids in the class – she declared to my mother: “I can tell you three things about Peter’s future: He will be a priest; he will be a teacher; he will be a writer.” That insight didn’t come from gazing into a crystal ball; it came from a loving dedication to her apostolate. I should note that two other classmates of mine also became priests.

We moved out of the city after fifth grade, but Sister and I kept in touch. She was thrilled when I entered the seminary in 1968, making me truly one of “her boys” (an affectionate term nuns often used for their students who became priests). That year – that annus horribilis – was also the year of her community’s general chapter when they doffed their habits, moved into apartments, and abandoned our schools in droves. Sister stayed the course. When she refused to take off her veil, she was sent for psychological counseling and was also told there was no position open for her in the community.

A dentist, who had generously taken care of our entire school, offered Sister a job in his office. “But I don’t want to wear lay clothes, Doctor.” “I don’t want you to, either. I think most of my patients would love to be greeted by a Sister to assuage their fears.” It was a truly happy arrangement.

Sister Regina Rose graced my First Mass and reception with her presence. When I asked her to stand up to be acknowledged for her prophecy fifteen years earlier, she demurred, causing me to say, “Sister, for a whole year I obeyed you. Now it’s your turn to obey me!” Sister got a most well-deserved standing ovation. It also resulted for many in attendance to reminisce about the wonderful Sisters from their student days.

I took Sister Regina to dinner for her ninety-fifth birthday. She was as sharp as a tack, reminding me of things I said and did, lo, those many years ago. Eventually, she had to repair to the community’s retirement home, which was actually no longer theirs for they had sold it to a Lutheran agency! Not having received her customary Christmas card in her beautiful Palmer method penmanship for a few years, I wondered if she was still among us. I called the facility and tactfully asked for Sister, not knowing exactly how to ask if someone were still alive.

“One moment, and I’ll get her!” “Hello,” came a chipper voice. “Sister Regina?” “Yes, who’s this?” “One of your former students.” “Father Peter!” “How are you, dear?” “Not bad for 106!”

I reminded her that I had taken her out for her ninety-fifth birthday, which brought this feisty retort, “Yeah, but where were you for 100 and 105?” Suitably chastened, I promised to repeat the outing for 110. Alas, that was not to be. She proceeded to decry the living conditions, especially the lack of a Catholic presence to the place. A woman who had given thousands upon thousands of children a Catholic education was consigned to a non-Catholic end. I am told that during the so-called pandemic, the Sisters did not have even Sunday Mass; I wonder if Sister had the consolation of the Last Sacraments. I wish I had known.

In some sense, Sister’s death was a blessing because now that Lutheran agency is bailing out of the business and the remaining nineteen nuns are being farmed out to homes of various religious communities.

I recount this story as a tribute to a woman who – like every one of the thirty-some Sisters who taught me – made me into the human being, the Catholic, the priest that I am.

I also share this saga as a sad tale of how true is the Latin adage, “Corruptio optimi, pessima” (The corruption of the best is the worst). A vibrant religious institute of more than 2000 women in my boyhood has been reduced to nothing because so many of them (especially their leaders) imbibed the “spirit of Vatican II,” which devolved further into the “spirit of the world.” Or, as the indomitable moral theologian, Monsignor William Smith, once put it so laconically, “The longest wake in history!”


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 200 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

34 Comments

  1. … Well what are you mad about!? It seems alot of things, that despite the devil trying to get in the way, never did for sister, just like st mother teresa, she led like the women of the Gospel…
    Get over yourself…
    Offer Holy Mass for her! If need be, I’ll send you the stipend.
    The good sisters of st joseph would say about their boys: 3 P’s… We thought peas, they meant: Priest, Politician or Prisoner.

    • What a stupid, sarcastic reply. I didn’t need you to tell me to offer Holy Mass for her; I have done so many times — and without a stipend, thank you.

      • She would appreciate you praying the Rosary as well. Visit another homebound person in her honor; drop them off a weekly bulletin – they appreciate it, even if they might get one from their Eucharistic minister later on.

        Obviously, you had some well deserved affection for this servant of God. (Also, think of all the praying she did in her last 30 years!)

        May the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in Peace!

    • Sorry but I cannot believe that after reading this article, you would come to say what you said… unbelievable. As a catholic our Dad took us 17miles to go to a catholic school after he got a teaching position (that in those days paid much less than now )It was an honor to be taught by nuns and priests, that to this day I am bless for all what I have learned and am today. A devout
      catholic. Fr.Peter felt the same. He is just letting us know what is happening in some cases. Sister Regina was one of them… We need to care for the ones who were there for all of us. Even though I believe she saw Jesus as soon as she arrived in heaven! Maybe this will help coming from one who too, were blessed to have had devout nuns to guide them for their future?

    • I thought it was a lovely article.
      Thank you Fr. Stravinskas. God bless you & Sister Regina both. May she rest in peace.

      • Fr S. I have had some similar experience to yours and can well understand your bitterness. I was closely connected to a religious order; actually, I watched several orders go belly-up because they made their life profession to Our Lady of the Really Hip Zeitgeist. “Obedience” was a dirty word. Monastic garb was passe and inconvenient. Priest were authoritarian tyrants. I could go on for 6 paragraphs more. A beloved Mother Superior was betrayed many times because women who thought they had a vocation treated it the way women have treated marriage. Since I was far too intimate with the particular order, I shared the sufferings of the M. Superior, who was now merely “Sister.” Endless, endless tragedies. All you can do is pray for those poor souls who were left rudderless and give thanks to God for the quickly growing conservative, be-habited young women joining the traditional orders.
        God bless you too. I hope you continue to say what you think, no matter how it annoys those who disapprove. It’s the Truth!

    • Gee, that was on the harsh side. Fr. S. could have left that part out, but who is harmed? Besides, it is a lovely tribute. I never knew or had a sister Regina, but I did have a few teachers whom I cherish to this day. As an adult, I once paid a visit, as tribute, to the classroom (6th grade) where she still taught at the time. Deo gratias.

  2. A great column about a great woman, and I was absorbed from beginning to end. Fr. Stravinskas was blessed not only for the fifth grade, but for a lifetime of knowing Sr. Regina. I will remember her in my prayers this evening

  3. As a priest who chose St. Michael for his icon, your comment was both extremely judgmental and extremely harsh. You should “get over yourself” and set a better example.(imo)

    • I agree. There’s no justifiable reason for a priest to be calling people “stupid.” But Stravinskas has a tendency to resort to name calling when his feathers get ruffled. It’s kind of par for the course.

      • Athanasius,

        You actually don’t “agree” with William Jude. Mr. Jude was speaking about the manifest rudeness and small-mindedness of “Fr J”. Fr J was way out of line and deserved to be rebuked by Father Stravinskas.

        • Thanks for the response. That may very well be the case, but calling people stupid isn’t really an appropriate response from a priest. And my sense from previous post responses is that Stravinskas does tend to get rather belligerent when he feels slighted or is challenged. It’s a pattern rather than an isolated incident. As a priest, he’s held to a higher standard.

          • He didn’t call the person stupid, he called the reply stupid. Quite accurately, it seems to me.

          • But “Father” is a priest himself, so yes, we have to hold him to a higher standard, as well. I am on Fr. Peter’s side. He deserves to be called what he is.

  4. How different the world would have been had more of us had similar experiences in our childhood? The first priest I knew, more than in passing, embezzled the school building fund.

  5. What a blessing they were, our Sisters of Divine Providence. They taught us well, dressed head to toe in their long, black habits, only revealing face and hands. The school had no air conditioning. Between suffering the heat and our often wayward behavior, few had need of purgatory. God bless them.

  6. This one was very personal for me. I am in touch with three of my grammar school teachers, although none of them are close to 108. Yet. I think the most unfortunate people on earth are those who only know their teachers when they are in their classes. My wife and I are also in contact with a sister whose order was not able to keep its motherhouse. She resides in a Lutheran facility. If that is unfortunate, it is hard to see how it could have been avoided.

  7. What a beautiful story . I served Mass at the sisters of Notre Dame convent which took up one square block in Milwaukee, no longer there. I had nuns teaching me all 8 years. Look what they’ve done to my song mom.

  8. Father, what a lovely story. You say you are angry but what I read is your great distress over the isolated end of a nun you had great affection for. There is nothing wrong in feelings like that.Nor in being upset over the circumstance of her passing. I did not remain in touch with any of the nuns who taught me. However I have remained in contact with a dear Priest friend who used to pastor my parish. He is now retired and over 90!!! He baptized both of my children and buried my husband. In many of the major touchstones of my life he has been there. With my father gone these more than 20 years ( and he being the same age as my dad) he has become, emotionally, a genuine Father figure for me in a very real way.Thank God he is currently active and well, but I know that the day he passes ( hopefully years away yet!!) will be very painful for me. You have my sympathy, Father Stravinskas, on the passing of Sister Regina. It is puzzling to me that the church does not make firmer plans for caring for our nuns and priests in the end years of their lives. It should not be that hard to fundraise for such a thing.

  9. Eternal Rest !
    Every bit of suffering allowed by our Lord , just as would have been in the case of the martyrdom of the Holy Apostles themselves – let us hope that united with that of The Lord is bearing much fruit . Good to read of the Holy Father’s words on the occasion of the visit of the Lutherans – trusting in The Lord who is generous in rewarding the good intention of our hearts that are in One with His Holy Will –
    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/06/28/pope-francis-the-witness-of-growing-communion-between-us-christians-will-be-a-sign-of-hope/

    Had come across not that long ago , on the sufferings and misunderstandings that St.Padre Pio was allowed to undergo , including from persons who were other wise seen as ‘good hearted ‘ , yet who were influenced by the corrupt superiors of the saint – that to include St. John X111 himself , thus to also witness as to how
    The Church had its share of issues before Vat. 11 !

    S.G. Luisa , of the Divine Will revelations , said to have been well respected by St.Padre Pio also would share in same as well .

    https://spiritdailyblog.com/church/author-documents-false-abuse-claims-massive-frauds-against-catholic-church

    And may be all such allowed by The Lord , to help prepare The Church for the last battle against family and marriage as well as attacks on the Priesthood- brought on by the dragon flood waters through massive media back up .

    https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-06/pope-francis-on-the-cross-jesus-prayed-for-each-of-us.html

    Yet , that media also there to bring good memories of the blessings and good people in the past as in the grateful and cherished words in the above article as well as the comforting words of the Holy Father , to pierce through jaded hearts as though heard for the first time –

    ‘Jesus prayed for me ..for each of you ….always keep that in the heart ‘ – powerful blessing words so very fitting for this month of the Two Hearts .

    May those words resound in the hearts of every family , including that of the unborn and those who are near death …

    Blessings !

  10. I have heard similar stories about the way sisters who wouldn’t go along with the sudden move to “apartments” and “civvies” were treated and it makes me think that the problem wasn’t just Vatican 2 but that something was already seriously wrong with the minds and hearts of the religious would treat a devout sister like that. What happened in the 60s has deeper roots than just a wind change in Rome.

  11. Another nice article. I was fortunate to grow up in the era when Catholic Schools had sisters to each us. Unfortunately to me did not appreciate the self sacrifice made by them to teach us the faith and allow students to be nurtured in a Catholic environment.

    One thing that bothers me to this day is the after effect of VC2, which effectively destroyed so many convents. Only now is there a small reawakening of a few Sister Orders that are able to offer a few Sisters to schools. But I wonder how was VC2 able to be so vastly destructive. Was the foundation of those decimated Orders really that weak, or were they undermined by a few leaders bent on making changes that others were reluctant to criticize.

    • I am afraid the answer must be that the pre-Vatican II formation of nuns (and priests) was very poor. How else to explain a woman going from six yards of black serge swathing her entire body to a JC Penney pants suit overnight?

      • Father Stravinskas,

        Thank you for a heartfelt article. Your wonderful friend suffered much in her abandonment and it is inexcusable that you were not notified of her death.

        I understand exactly what you are talking about. I have a book that explains just what happened with religious orders. I also have a paper in which William Coulson describes how he was involved with destruction of Catholic Orders and Catholic schools. Both are packed away as I had too many books. When I find the materials I will post the info. I was able to find an article that gives a glimpse on the systematic take-down of the institutions which was the brain child of Dr. Carl Rogers a psychiatrist in California.

        “In a personal well documented interview he stated regarding the “Immaculate Heart Of Mary” order of nuns, “The IHM’s had some 60 schools when we started; at the end, they had “one”. There were some 615 nuns when we began. Within a year after our first interventions, 300 of them were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows. They did not want to be under anyone’s authority, except the authority of their imperial inner selves.” see:

        Catholic Psychology: *The Perverting Of Catholic Religious (Part 1)*

        • I thing Catholic World Report had one of those articles when it was still in its paper form. It’s so sad.

          Did any of you ever see the movie “The Trouble With Angels?” It’s from 1966 and starred Hayley Mills as a troublesome girl who went to a boarding school connected to a convent, whose Mother Superior was played by Rosalind Russell. It’s hilarious, but it’s also very touching.

          There was a sequel, “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows” (1968), and I thought, “Oh, yay!” I couldn’t even finish watching it, and it’s one of the few DVD’s I threw away instead of passing on. It was all young-activist-nun-shakes-up-order, and ended (as I discovered as I fast-forwarded through most of it, pausing now and then to watch a few seconds and cringe) with the nuns dumping their long habits and face-framing wimples for shorter dresses and the from-forehead-to-behind-the-neck headband veils. That was bad enough.

          There was an episdoe of Mother Angelica Live called something like “Hidden Agenda,” in which Mother went absolutely ballistic. She was still wearing the “new” version of her habit, and she said, “Next time you see us we’ll be wearing the traditional habits,” and they were.

          • The Rogers “thing” went all through religious orders and those who did not wish to comply with the “new found self” program were coerced into a house for reprogramming.

            I have a book(or maybe I lent it out- 70s or 80s) I don’t recall the name of the book, but it connects to a priest at the Vatican who had a strategy of how to get “the sisters” modernized. I thought it was quite evil.(what he planned)

            I didn’t know about Mother Angelica’s habit episode, but that sounds like her.

  12. Back in 1994, The Latin Mass magazine published an article entitled “Repentant Psychologist: How I Wrecked the IHM Nuns” which was an interview with Charles Coulson. I checked online and the article appears to be available online, but at different website address.
    Father, this was an excellent, very touching article. I can certainly understand how you feel about this entire situation.
    When I was still living in Oak Lawn, IL (SW side of Chicago), our condo building had a unit which was rented out by a religious order which had various retired priests living in it, one at a time, all alone. I thought it was so strange that an order would treat its senior members in that fashion.
    However, over time, I have begun to realize that in certain quarters, the Silly Season of the 60’s and 70’s has never really ended; indeed, it has become institutionalized. The late James Larson on his blogs “War Against Being” and “Rosary to the Interior” describes this situation as a state of prostitution to the world, and analyzes it brilliantly. I believe the only remedy is constant prayer and offering of penances on behalf of all those who have been seduced by the spirit of the world, that they may come to their senses and be converted.

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