Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 07

THE little community waited in the hall of the Stella Maris Convent for the car that was to take Sister Flora “home”. At a little past three o’clock Joan heard wheels crunching on the gravel outside the front door.

“They’re here!” Clare exclaimed. “The sisters from France – they’re here!”

“Be calm, Sister,” Joan said softly. “Wait until the bell rings then open the door, please, and welcome them.”

Sister Flora sat on the big old carved oak chair, under the portrait of the sister of long ago who had founded their Order. The one suitcase, placed beside her on the tiled floor, contained all that she needed, but nothing that she owned.

It warmed Joan’s heart to see how happy she looked. The nuns who had come to collect her would not stay long. They would be eager to get to the convent near the Channel Tunnel where they would spend the night before returning to France in the morning. The doorbell rang. Sister Clare opened the door quietly to reveal four nuns standing on the door step.

“Do come in, Sisters.” She smiled.

Joan came forward to meet them and they embraced in greeting.

“How was your journey?” she asked.

“Very good, I am pleased to say. Once I got used to driving on the wrong side of the road.” A portly, middle-aged nun, who was obviously the driver of the car, put down a suitcase and rubbed her hands together. “Well, here we are to collect our sister for her trip home to the Mother House. Everyone is very excited to welcome her. Now – which of you is it?”

“It’s me!” Flora piped up from the old oak chair. “It’s Henry and me.”

“Ah!” The nun smiled at Flora. “Well, I have two sisters for you and will only be taking one home so there will be plenty of room for Henry.” She exchanged a knowing glance with Joan.

The second nun who was to accompany Flora handed over two files.

“To you, Reverend Mother, Sister Catherine sends the files of the sisters who have travelled with us, for you to read carefully.”

Joan smiled and took the brown folders. One was very full, the other almost empty.

“May I introduce you to your new sister? She is from Naples.” She indicated a tall, slender nun, very graceful, with a lock of black hair escaping from the edge of her grey veil. Her eyes were very dark and her skin honeyed by a Mediterranean sun. Ah, Joan thought. This must be the author.

The tall sister came forward to embrace Joan.

“I am Gianna Rosella Pascharelli,” she said with confidence. “I have come to improve your kitchen.”

Joan half-expected Clare to explode, but on glancing over at their cook it seemed as if Clare couldn’t quite believe what she had heard, and the moment passed.

The fourth nun, the sister of whom Mother Catherine had asked Joan to take gentle care, hardly made an impression at all. She stood quietly with head bowed and spared a glance for no-one. She trembled slightly as Joan embraced her.

“And what is your name, Sister?” Joan asked softly.

“Her name is Sister Benedict,” the first nun said. “She also is from Italy. Her file will speak for her.”

The shy nun picked up her suitcase and stood with head bowed, apparently waiting for further orders, not attempting to communicate with anyone.

Joan noticed her sisters exchanging glances.

“I think that Sister Benedict would like to see her room,” Joan said softly. “Sister Emma will show you the way.”

She smiled at their new sister even though that nun didn’t raise her eyes to see it.

Young Sister Emma gently took the suitcase from the shy nun.

“Here we are, Sister.” She smiled. “We’ve prepared the top room for you. There’s a lovely view from the window all the way across the garden and down to the sea shore. I’m sure you’ll be happy . . .”

Joan could hear her chatting until they were both out of earshot. There seemed to be no reply from Sister Benedict.

“Well, now,” the nun who was obviously in charge of the day said. “We must be on our way. No time for tea or anything, must get back to our overnight quarters.” She grinned and picked up Sister Flora’s suitcase. “Quick goodbye – that’s best. We will take great care of her.”

Alison Cook