We Remember Sister Anne Newcomer

We Remember Sister Anne Newcomer

The Reading we heard earlier today when we met Sister Anne’s body was from the end of the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict.  It speaks of how “as we move along this way, our hearts expand with the inexpressible delights of love.”  As I reflect on the life of Sister Anne, this image of a heart that has expanded in love seems most appropriate.  Anne held in her heart her family and friends, her sisters, her pets, her garden, her work, her love of the poor and of learning, her gratitude for those who cared for her…. I could go on and on.  For Anne, all of these loves were stepping stones and expressions of her love for God and God’s love for her.  This evening we celebrate with Anne that her heart continues to burn with the fullness of the revelation of God’s love.

Sister Anne is a Peoria girl, the daughter of Anna & George Newcomer, and sister of George and Marge.  She attended the Academy of Our Lady in Peoria.  After high school graduation and a couple of years working, Anne joined the Sisters of St. Benedict.  Anne once told me that she wanted most of all to be good…and she felt that coming to Nauvoo would be a way of being with people who would help her fulfill this desire.  Indeed, Anne was good…..and she did good….and helped countless others be good during her years of ministry.

When I entered the community, we had little interaction with professed sisters.  But I do remember early experiences with Sister GeorgeAnn.  In fact, for me—not an Academy girl—Sister GeorgeAnn was one of the first professed sisters—other than Sister Teresa Ann—that I had consistent experience with.

Sister GeorgeAnn was in charge of the laundry where the postulants and novices spent every Tuesday.  We became accustomed to her gruff and loving direction. That contact was expanded as I helped in the kitchen.  Her efficiency and skill and directness were continually on display.  When I was a Junior Sister, Sister GeorgeAnn and I and Hilda Baxter spent many Sunday afternoons with the migrants in Lomax helping with clothing sales for their families.  Sometimes we would go into the camps to visit the people there.  So early on, I saw in Sister characteristics which were touchstones in her life:  love of God and her sisters, service to community needs, and caring presence with the poor.

Anne recognized her work in the kitchen to be a vital ministry.  She once commented that “when the girls eat well, they study better; when the sisters eat well, they teach better.”   She and the sisters in the kitchen worked well together, and it was clear they enjoyed their work.  The Academy girls were blessed by their presence, their dedication, their example, and their love.  And the sisters were blessed too.

Anne’s daily schedule of prayer and work in the kitchen and the garden, were time-consuming.  Yet it seems she always also had time for some form of outreach in the community.  In 1997 Anne was recognized by the Nauvoo Historical Society for her service to the citizens of Nauvoo.  The award was given to all the sisters.  Anne was especially chosen because she was a long-time member and officer of the Society.  One paragraph of the citation reads:

“In addition to her work in food service, Sister Anne prepared food for numerous annual dinners of the Historical Society and other community events.  Today she has many responsibilities around the Monastery while continuing to visit the homebound and hospitalized.  She is an outdoor person and a lover of dogs and horses. …  ‘I like to be outside; to me that’s where God’s presence is,’ she said.”

 As Anne retired from working in food service in the 1990s her volunteer service expanded to work with the Salvation Army in Keokuk and the Catholic Worker in Ft. Madison.  Once we moved to Rock Island it took no time at all for Sister to get involved with the Quad Cities Botanical Center and the Rock Island Food Pantry.  Her service to the community and love for the poor continued to grow. 

Anne also had a passion for learning. She was full of questions about Scriptures, and life in general.  She relished opportunities here in Rock Island to participate in Just Faith and various study groups.  Friends of mine who were in those groups with her have told me how profoundly they have been touched by her presence and sharing.  They witnessed signs of her heart expanded in love and were in awe.

On several occasions Anne and I talked about what we think heaven will be like.  Anne once told me:  “Sandra, I don’t want to just sit around and LOOK AT HIM;  I want to DO SOMETHING…like fix a meal….”  As I reflect on Anne’s active life, I see where she is coming from!  ….  We would always end that conversation with “Eye has not seen; ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love God.” 

I believe Anne’s heart burns within her NOW as she experiences the fullness of God’s love.  Her ears are hearing this evening’s Gospel verse:  “Come, you whom my Father has blessed;  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.  Her eyes….that so yearned to see again…are now seeing and enjoying the eternal banquet of LOVE.

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