By Sister Nancy Linenkugel
Recently in looking at the necrology listing for our community, I noticed that Sister Gabrielle died on March 14, 1978. That would be 40 years ago this year. Eternal rest to you, dear Sister Gabrielle.
Who could forget her distinctive yellow coffee cake she made weekly so that our Sunday breakfast would be festive? In her cheery demeanor with broken English she always appreciated the help of assigned novices in the St. Joe’s bakery. Some of us had more aptitude for baking than others, but that didn’t matter to Sister Gabrielle, who gladly welcomed each of us.
Can’t you picture the small St. Joe’s bakery, with its large mixer and kneading hook, carts of bakery trays, and plenty of counter space to work the dough? Sister Gabrielle had most everything in arm’s reach as she perched on a stool and used her cane as a prop for her leg with the bum knee.
As a novice in 1969, I did my best during my turn as bakery helper to assist Sister Gabrielle in whatever she needed. Because my turn came during the spring, the “whatever she needed” turned out to be helping with her Jubilee cards along with the baking.
We recall that in those days instead of money or wrapped gifts we gave Spiritual Bouquets. Our archives are replete with beautifully hand-crafted and adorned oversize cards presented to Mother Adelaide on many occasions indicating all the gifts of prayers from the community. For Sister Gabrielle’s purposes, she simply needed me to write the cards on her behalf because her command of the English language was better spoken than written.
So one day she had all the supplies with her in the bakery: festive greeting cards, matching envelopes, and a good pen. She cleaned off an area of a bakery table I could use as a writing surface. I pulled up a chair in front of the “desk” and she sat nearby on her usual stool. I clearly recall how trusting she was—trusting that I would capably address the cards and scribe her sentiments exactly as she dictated to me.
So we began. She had a list of the Jubilarians, and we started with the first sister on the list. I addressed the envelope and showed it to her. “Beautiful, beautiful!” she exclaimed. So far, so good.
I opened the first card, wrote “Dear Sister (name) and turned to Sister Gabrielle asking, “What shall I write for your spiritual bouquet gift?”
She thought for a moment and said, “I will say the prayer Jesus/Mary/Joseph 500 times.”
I stopped writing, looked up, and said, “500?” with an incredulous tone to my voice. Truthfully, I had never heard of anyone saying so many prayers and counting them to boot, so my reaction was just automatic. I wanted to be sure I heard correctly. However, Sister Gabrielle thought that I thought she was being chintzy, so immediately she said, “Oh, no. No, no. Make it 1,000.”
I didn’t react. I didn’t even look at her. I just kept writing. I didn’t dare make any more comments. And when I finished writing the first card, I said, “Sister Gabrielle, what a wonderful gift. Our Sister-jubilarian will be really pleased.” Sister Gabrielle smiled. Then she used that same 1,000 number for her prayers that I wrote in each other jubilee card.
The whole time I was feeling badly that my immediate reaction ended up doubling her praying. No wonder she needed a cane to prop up her bad knee. I had just caused her twice as many hours of kneeling.