“I pray for you every day, Father Kiley,” St. Joseph of Springfield Sister Charles Joseph Carr, who recently passed away, would remind me quite often.
“I prayed for you when you first came to St. Francis; I prayed for you while you were in Pawtucket; and I pray for you every day now.” While I certainly appreciated Sister Carr’s remembrance at prayer, her words also gave me an insight into her own soul.
The key words are “every day.” Whatever Sister Carr did, she did every day. She was not merely a creature of habit; she was a model of commitment. Once having put her hand to the plow, she did not look back. St. Joseph Sister Joan Hawkins, also of St. Francis Convent, remembers best of all how disappointed Sister Carr was on those rare days she could not carry out her routine.
In more recent years, morning worshippers at St. Francis Church in Warwick would witness Sister Carr wend her way to the pulpit, every arthritic bone making itself felt. Nonetheless, she would read the Word of God in a fine clear voice. And then, as was her custom for 75 years, she would make her contribution to Catholic education. For many years in Newport and Warwick, Sister Carr was the first grade teacher. In later years, she assisted in the parish kindergarten here. She was always happy to prepare class material for her beloved tiny tots.
Sister Carr was not only dedicated to the classroom; she was also an active supporter of all that contributed to Catholic education. Sister’s name was legendary within the supermarkets of Warwick, where her beckoning smile would induce the busiest shopper to purchase a book of tickets for a parish steak fry or for a carnival at her beloved Mont Marie Convent, Holyoke, MA. She was glad to be a leader in the parish 50-week club, whose captains would gather weekly in the old convent, catching up on parish life. Every aspect of parish life at St. Francis was important to Sister Carr, whether it be emptying the candle money and delivering an envelope of counted cash to the rectory or attending every parish event from the annual mission to a spring lawn party.
And extending beyond the parish, Sister Carr was very proud to be a Sister of St. Joseph of Springfield. The veil that she wore even to the grave was a fine testimony to her commitment to the religious life. She enjoyed attending festivities and conferences and days of prayer at the Mont, where she would encounter fellow sisters from days gone-by.
But Sister Carr was resolutely happy to return to her own bed in Warwick. Hillsgrove was her perennial true home.
I know personally that Sister Carr was faithful each week to the Sacrament of Penance, and Sister Hawkins was mentioning to me just recently that the Divine Office was very much a part of convent life on Jefferson Blvd. and now on Chestnut Street. And as I mentioned at the beginning, Sister Carr had a long and unvarying prayer list of which most of us here today are the beneficiaries.
No doubt Sister Carr relished custom and routine. She thrived on reading at church every day and she delighted in resting in her own bed every night. But custom and routine are just other words for duty and dependability. Sister Carr was certainly very dutiful. In a world that glorifies individual choice and personal opinion, Sister Carr was very content, in fact, very pleased to have a clear sense of duty, carrying out what was expected of her rather than what might just fancy her. Obedience, deference and respect are not popular virtues nowadays but in Sister Carr they were solidly exemplified.
During Sister Carr’s funeral Mass, we celebrated Jesus’ great words of commitment: “This is my body which is given for you. ...This is the cup of my blood which will be shed for you.” Jesus is telling us that commitment is written in words of service, in words of generous self-giving. Sister Carr understood this message and gave her life in dutiful service to her church, her parish, her religious congregation and especially her students.