Sister Robbie Pentecost, OSF has been the Treasurer of our Mary’s Pence Board since 2011. Robbie lives in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky and currently serves as the Director of Christian Appalachian Project’s Christian Partners program.
As I was driving home a couple of weeks ago, after having cooked for one of our volunteer houses a couple hours a way I received a text. It was late at night so when I stopped at a stop sign I glanced at the text – my dear friend, mentor, and wise-woman had passed away. I immediately felt tears forming and my memories of Laurencia (who was known by many names: Sister Laurencia Listerman, Laurie, Granny, Helen – her birth name, or Angel by some who couldn’t pronounce her name, like my mother) began to flow and a smile begin to take shape. You couldn’t really be sad as Laurie was 101 – and as a Sister of St. Francis for 83 years she was awaiting this sacred moment. Laurie always prayed for me and my travels, she knew the roads I drive in Appalachia at all times of the day and night, no wonder I felt so alert as I drove home that night. She went quickly – I was told. What a blessing!
In this season of Advent when we have two celebrations of Mary – the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebration that draws crowds not usually found on Sunday mornings, it seems appropriate to focus on the gifts of women in our lives. Laurencia, like Mary, worked prophetically behind the scenes always pointing the way toward God. I was told by her niece that her son had a history project at school and so he interviewed Sister Laurie since she had been around when the Great Depression took place. Laurie’s mind was sharp, even up to the day she died – another real blessing. Her niece said she even got into politics on the tape –not surprising as Laurie was always on top of current events, reading everything she could find. She stayed up late to watch our first black President get elected. She was in book group that studied the Universe theology up until a year or so ago, and well into her 90’s she even read some of the Harry Potter books in an effort to understand young people.
Perhaps the most telling story that has been told about Laurencia was told at her funeral. Sister Margie, in her reflections, shared that as a freshman at Oldenburg Academy in 1965 she had Laurencia as her teacher for World History. She soon learned that the textbook served only as a reference book – looking up particular statistics and reviewing maps. World History, in Sister Laurencia’s class, was told from the perspective of the women in the countries they were studying. This was 1965!
I lived with Laurencia when I entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Francis in 1985. As I look back over these 30 years I stand in deep gratitude for the woman who taught me that it was O.K. to think and act outside the box, to ask questions (from a curious point of view), to challenge the Church when it had gone off course – in her quiet educating way and to continue to deepen your relationship with God daily. No wonder the Gospel for her funeral caused many of us to smile tears of joy – it was a unique version of the Beatitudes that brought reality and faith together.
Thank you Laurencia for reflecting, like Mary, Christ’s love and compassion for each person! Keep praying me safely home. We will miss your smiling face and enthusiastic greeting, but we know your spirit will live on.
Sister Robbie Pentecost, OSF