By Hank Stuever
After a long 18 months apart, I was overjoyed to at last return to the Adorers’ house in Wichita on June 17 to see my mother, Sister Joann Stuever, ASC. More of our family members arrived en masse over the next few days to join the sisters in celebrating 25 years since Mom’s first vows in the summer of 1996.
It was yet another opportunity to reflect on how blessed we’ve all been, to emerge safely out of the pandemic and see all the sisters. It made me realize once more how much the ASCs have become a family to us. Sister Joann remarked that some of her grandchildren (and all her great-grandchildren) have only ever known her to live in community settings. It’s been 30 years now since Mom took her first steps into this world. Her family didn’t quite know what was in store. We couldn’t have imagined all that we would gain: a new kind of home, a new kind of extended family, a glimpse of the spirit and joy that our mother experiences daily.
Recently, several friends shared with me some Tweets from a man whose mother had recently died in her 90s. She also became a sister later in life, after a marriage and 11 (!) children – a cloistered nun who entered the convent and never came out. He only saw her three times in the last few decades, and only through an iron gate. He seemed vaguely sad and perhaps resentful of the life she felt called to live. I struggled to understand why so many of my friends felt the need to share his Tweets with me, other than the “son of a nun” angle. What a profoundly different experience he has had – mainly about loss, I guess, and sacrifice.
Mostly it made me think of the past year-plus, when I also felt locked away, unable to come to Wichita and worrying constantly about the sisters’ health and well-being. It made me think of how sad I was to not be there after Sister Rita Robl died. It made me think of how deep my feelings are for these women, their lives, and the order’s fascinating history. I was frustrated and angry with the lack of courage from our elected leaders to the pandemic crisis and other Americans’ unwillingness to help curb the coronavirus’ spread. Selfishness kept us apart and I was afraid of losing my mother. I had a lot of thinking (and forgiving) to do.
Those dark feelings vanished as I walked, fully vaccinated, through Wichita’s front doors – and, yes, stood in front of the thermometer and filled out the form. I stayed an extra week, honored to be the first “outside” guest since the pandemic closure. Mom and I tackled some of the boxes in her closet, revisiting our old life in heaps of photos and saved mementos. (Ask me sometime about my pitch for a reality-TV show that I would call “Hoarder Nuns.”) It was my great luck to have stayed long enough to see the entire house filled once again with pure bliss, as Sister Jenny Sellaro made her final vows June 26, followed by a big beef brisket dinner and a special appearance by the Bad Habits, singing their greatest hits.
Before I left on Sunday afternoon, I joined the sisters in their weekly “visit” to those sisters still safely distanced in the Caritas skilled-nursing wing. The doors swung open and eyes lit up, smiles wide. We sang songs together, waved to one another, and I was once again moved by what happens in this place, this home. “You are my sunshine,” indeed, and I am so grateful for it.