Archbishop Gerald T. Bergen of Omaha arrived in our town on July tenth to dedicate one of his many new church buildings. After the dedication I was escorted into the sacristy to plead my case. The room was full of men taking off their cassocks and vestments. I felt small, nervous, and female. Someone directed Bishop Bergen’s attention toward me, and I asked him if I could “be-an- altar-boy-I-know-the-Mass-in Latin-and-English-and-can-do-all-the-prayers-and-actions-and-I-trained-real-hard-and-I-really-want-to-do-it”. He barely stopped moving as he looked at me and said “You can’t be an altar boy because you are a girl.” “I know I am, but I want to be a girl altar boy”. “But the Church only uses boys and you’re a girl so you can’t”. He turned away to end the conversation without another word. That was all my nerves could take. I was a girl, a lesser, an unwanted, an unneeded thing. I left the sacristy sick and blinded with disappointment and embarrassment.
This incident came to mind often throughout the next 35 years. Mostly with pain and the embarrassment of youth, but later with a well justified rage. Then I began to remember the sister who stepped out of line to train me. I remembered how quiet she was. How once I caught her tiny smile at my eagerness during a session. How she saw nothing wrong with a girl serving at the altar, and cautiously encouraged me in my mission. I needed to thank her. The same week I finally remembered her name I happened to be in another state driving to an event with strangers. I discovered one of the strangers was from Sister Monique’s same motherhouse… and knew Monique’s phone number by heart.
I called Monique and thanked her. We became friends and visited in person. Her kindness, compassion and wisdom have only grown over the years. The incident that once made me feel helpless with rage and rejection was diffused and replaced with a new relationship of trust and understanding. Sister Monique is now on staff at The Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Janesville, MN. It is a beautiful and healing place where you can find yourself surrounded by beauty, held in the clear knowledge of the goodness of the Creator. Monique fills my heart with gratitude, with love, and with peace. Thank you, Sister Monique, for being the living body of Christ in my life.