By Sister Sheila Carney
In 1843, Bishop Michael O’Connor wrote to the Sisters of Mercy in Carlow, Ireland. He was bound for the newly established Diocese of Pittsburgh, and he asked the sisters if any would accompany him into the unknown for the love of God. Of the 36 members of the community, 35 volunteered!
The lone hold-out was Sister Veronica McDarby, and, her reluctance notwithstanding, she was one of the seven missioned to Pittsburgh. She and six others left Carlow on November 4, braved the Atlantic and the Alleghenies, and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 20.
Sister Veronica became portress, or doorkeeper, of the convent in Pittsburgh, and she invested herself in that ministry for 40 years. The other founders scoured the byways for those in need, established schools and a hospital and otherwise engaged with the city. All the while, Sister Veronica stayed at the convent, opening the door. A hidden task, a lowly task, we might think.
And yet, at her death, there was public mourning in the city, because Veronica had raised the opening of the door to the level of an art form. To anyone who rang, she extended her Irish wit and warmth and anything else she might be able to give them—a warm coat, perhaps, or food for their children. And if she couldn’t offer them the concrete things they sought, she offered them God’s love—and hers.
When I think that something I’ve been asked to do seems unimportant—when, in hubris, I deem things not worth my time—I remember Sister Veronica. She knew that there is no task, no human interaction, no matter how insignificant it may appear to be, that doesn’t provide the opportunity to manifest God’s love and mercy. The care, love, attention and respect with which we do what is ours to do, turns the ordinary events of the day into moments of grace and opportunity.