August 19, 2016
This September marks the 20th anniversary of my entering the Capuchin Order as a postulant. I vividly remember my first day as a Capuchin postulant, waking up at Saint Michael Friary in Brooklyn, NY to the sound of roosters crowing and wondering what I could possibly have been thinking when I got on that plane! Not that I had any serious doubts already on day one, but the strangeness of the world around me- a 23 year old man from the Midwest- sure had me questioning. But that all quickly faded from my mind as I entered into this new life, one which seemed like a dream because it was my dream!
I haven’t really thought about those days in a long time, but a recent event brought me back in time. This past week a person who, while I may not have realized it at the time, was very instrumental in forming me as a Capuchin and a minister passed unto Eternal Life, Sr. Peggy Merritt, OP. That’s right, one of my first formators for Capuchin life and ministry was a Dominican Religious woman! Let me explain. Sr. Peggy was the principal of our parish grade school, where I ministered 20 hours a week as a postulant. At the time of her passing, Sr. Peggy had ministered in one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in East New York, Brooklyn for almost 40 years at Saint Michael School. She led that school- and its students and parents- through good times and bad times, affecting and forming generations of people, including myself. Why was she so significant? Well, Sr. Peggy was present! She was present at the parish Masses and events. She was present in the school and available to students, staff and parents. She was even present in our friary, often coming over to have informal meetings with the pastor at our kitchen table with a couple of cups of coffee. We saw Sr. Peggy every day, many times during the day.
But its much more than her being present that formed me, it was HOW she was present. Sr. Peggy walked with the people of the East New York neighborhood through all the typical joys and celebrations of life but also through incredible tragedy… and through it all she was there. A strong personality, a no-nonsense leader, a skilled administrator, and a principal who knew how to make a school run and thrive on a shoe-string budget. But mostly she was a woman who, in everything she said and did, communicated how much she cared for and loved the people in her school… her parish… and her neighborhood. What a perfect example- a woman, a Sister, and a member of the Order of Preachers- to help form a young postulant into Capuchin life and ministry! Ah the memories!
Rest in peace, Sr. Peggy!