Thursday, September 27, 2012

Little Workers, Little Italy

We ate vanilla ice cream. With drumstick cones, chocolate cake, whipped cream, oatmeal cookies and almond coffee cake on the side. You got to choose. But don’t let me get ahead of myself…that was just dessert.

Dinner looked something like this: sweet potatoes, salad, green beans, pork chops, bread, cheese and wine. Can’t forget the wine.

“In Italy, drinking wine is like breathing,” the Italian nun explained.

I knew I would like the Little Workers of the Sacred Heart before I even smelled, saw or savored their food, before they poured me a glass of Two Buck Chuck and before they pulled out dessert. I knew I would like them when they invited Chelsea and me over for evening prayer, complete with the Liturgy of the Hours I had come to love so much
at the Benedictine monastery.

“It’s about an hour,” Sr. Dede, the Mother Superior, said. “Go to the bathroom now if you have to.”

I found myself at this little convent, weekend clinic and daycare less than two blocks away from my house after work around 5 and didn’t leave with Chelsea until 8:30. The Little Workers confirmed my suspicions: I’m slightly obsessed with nuns. So much so that the other day, as I was getting off the metro, I spotted two habits bouncing along up ahead of me and power walked to reach them. My brilliant idea was to say “Hi Sisters!” coolly. I got right up to them…and chickened out. Awkward...

The Little Workers, however, are everything I imagine a nun to be: warm, easy to talk to, funny and holy. There’s Sister Pamela, a young nun who just arrived from Argentina. Sister Martha and Sister Licia, both beautifully ancient and from Italy. The postulant Mary Jo, finishing up her third year at the Catholic University nursing program. And Sister Dede, almost 6 feet, who is an ex-army surgeon from Virginia. While that sounds fascinating on its own, I’ll try to explain her this way: Sr. Dede likes wine and a strong cup of coffee. During dessert, she put ice cream in a coffee mug and got up at least twice to refill it with whipped cream.

Sr. Dede with patients

The Sisters tend to the sick and have a free clinic on Saturdays—providing medical services and other charitable works to the poor. Some Fridays, the Italian nuns make homemade pasta or pizza and watch movies. Oh yeah, and there’s always a bowl of extra spicy jalapenos on the table during their meals.

I think we’ll all get along.