Sister Mary Monica Wood, RSM (1925-2011)

Sister Mary Monica Wood, RSM

October 19, 2011

“A Few Lilies”

Sister Mary Monica was the maven of  “economy of expression.” She had an attention to words and a graciousness with them which is associated with her generation. Expression must be spare and elevated,  and we who appreciated her short stories last winter know what this meant once we listened to her voice.

Her stories of bunnies and bambis, of kitties and puppies, and life in Alma, did not have one unnecessary syllable. Nor did they lack a syllable.  Her sentences were well crafted and few.

Not long ago she said to me that she did not think she had much time remaining and that her time might soon be over. In keeping with her economy of expression, I did not reply and was silent.

Sister was surely the wise virgin who kept oil in her lamp. In fact, I believe she invested in oil. I wondered what those cupboards in her office contained, and now we know.

She had extra oil because she knew what the lamp was for, what was the purpose of its light. The reason was captured by the poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Heaven-Haven” ‒ which, some have forgotten, was subtitled “A nun takes the veil:”


by Gerard Manley Hopkins

A nun takes the veil

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

Her economy of expression is contrasted with the copious and generous abundance of oil for her lamp. She knew the importance of the light and the need to keep it burning brightly to “see His face” one day.

She understood that faith GIVES WAY to vision, that hope GIVES WAY to possession, but that charity NEVER GIVES WAY. Rather it deepens and is perfected.

Now Sister needs neither oil nor lamp, but I have the feeling that she left behind quite a bit of it for our lamps.


Rev. Brian Van Hove, SJ
Alma, Michigan

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