By Sister Nancy Surma, OSF
I came to the convent in 1965, just as Vatican II was ending. At that time, religious congregations had the practice of giving those who entered the novitiate a new name to signify they were entering into a new life, different from what they had come from. (That practice ceased as we studied more deeply and reflected on the fact that religious life was living out our Baptismal commitments in a deeper way.)
My classmates and I had the opportunity to submit three names we would like considered for our “Sister name.” One of my choices was Sister Veronica Ann, selected because my grandmother’s name was Veronica and my mother’s name was Ann. That was the name I received as the Bishop announced after he handed me the habit, “Henceforth, you shall be called Sister Veronica Ann.”
I loved the name, originally because of those two women who were so important in my life. As time went on, I came to appreciate more the saints behind the name. St. Ann, revered as the grandmother of Jesus, is a beautiful expression of the fact that Mary, the sinless Mother of God, must have been raised in a loving family.
Saint Veronica has been identified with the legend of the woman who wiped the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Although there is no scriptural evidence for this event, the story was well spread in medieval Christianity. What a powerful example—a woman who reached out in love to bring what comfort she could to the suffering Man of Sorrows as he walked his way to crucifixion.
A charming and instructive legend identifies Veronica as the woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years who reaches out to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak as he passes her in a crowd. This story, related in both Matthew and Luke, has Jesus assuring the woman her faith has made her well.
I liked this tale when my study revealed it. What a beautiful cycle of love it shows. A woman, cut off from society by her illness, is healed by Jesus as he passes by; the suffering Lord, despised by his people, given comfort as he passed by the woman he had first reached out to. Veronica did indeed follow the command Jesus gave the disciples gathered at the Last Supper as he washed their feet: “For I have sent you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Each time I make the Stations of the Cross, I pray for the grace to respond in love as my one-time namesake did.