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March 27, 2008
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Violence, The Passion and the Blood of the Poor
We were hesitant to see "The Passion of the Christ" after hearing about the violence, since our lives are filled with violence. We were quite surprised by our reaction.

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Sister Peter Claver Spent Life Working for Poor and Forgotten

A fledgling ballerina in New York City, 20 year old Hannah Fahy asked God to make her life worthwhile. She spent the rest of her 105 years as Sister Peter Claver, ministering to prisoners.

Sister Peter Claver
Photo by Rosemary Fielding

 

In 1923, at age 24, Sister Peter Claver Fahy of the Precious Blood prayed, "Make my life worthwhile." At 95, she said, "Things keep bobbing up for me to do for God." When she died last month at the age of 105, Sister Peter Claver's work as a Sister of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity had spanned eight decades. She worked tirelessly, successfully and lovingly on behalf of the poor, destitute and outcasts.

Born Hannah Fahy, the eighth of eleven children from Rome, Georgia, Sister Peter Claver was, in 1919 at age twenty, a "little pagan" and a fledging ballerina in New York City. Dissatisfied, she prayed litanies to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother until she "heard how God would make my life worthwhile." Her answer was to enter the Missionary Servants in 1926, and spend the remainder of her life among the abandoned and the poor, especially Catholics not under the care of a church or parish. She called her vocation "a miracle."

She prayed litanies to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother until she "heard how God would make my life worthwhile."
In 1933 in New York, Sister Peter Claver gave Dorothy Day a one-dollar donation that helped pay for the first edition of the Catholic Worker. Later she gave Dorothy the retreat notes from the "famous retreat" of Father Onesimus Lacouture, S.J. "This is what I've been looking for since I became a Catholic," Dorothy told Sister Peter Claver. The two of them would go on to make the retreat fourteen times together and become close friends with a priest most-associated with the retreat, the late Father John J. Hugo of Pittsburgh. (Weapons of the Spirit: Selected Writings of Father John Hugo, ed. By David Scott and Mike Aquilina, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division). Today the Catholic Worker House in Philadelphia is named after Sister Peter Claver. Marquette University requested Sister Peter Claver's papers for placement in the archives of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.

When early in the 20th century, the Church was working to integrate non-English speaking immigrants into the Catholic parishes of this country, Sister Peter Claver instructed Italian families in New York and New Jersey, and arranged for baptisms and validation of marriages. In 1930, Black Catholics in Newark did not have regular access to Mass and the sacraments. With Sister Peter Claver's aid, they received what they prayed for: a priest of their own. Her work initiated the Black apostolate in the diocese and in the Missionary Servants.

Sister Peter Claver worked in backwoods communities in Georgia and Alabama, with the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi; developed Houses of Prayer for the poor and homeless and her fellow sisters in Georgia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; taught elementary school; opened the medical library of Holy Name of Jesus Hospital in Alabama; helped to found the Chol-Chol Foundation for Human Development among the poor Indians of Chile. Along the way, she received a M.A., a M.S. and a M.R.L.; honors and awards from Trinity College, LaSalle University, Holy Family University and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

In 1933 in New York, Sister Peter Claver gave Dorothy Day a one-dollar donation that helped pay for the first edition of the Catholic Worker.
After retirement in 1979 (to the Missionary Servants' Motherhouse in Northeast Philadelphia), she taught reading and writing to the prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, taking special care for each inmate's "eternal soul." "The first thing I do is to trace the Sign of the Cross on their forehead," she said. The prisoners often asked her to instruct them in the Catholic faith. Her "driving force" resulted in the creation of Hannah House for women (named after her) and Hospitality House for men, both "Half-way Back" homes for prisoners just released from jail. An article in OSV about her work at Holmesburg Prison resulted in hundreds of letters, new books, rosaries, prayer cards and religious articles being sent to her and the prisoners.

From 1999 until her death, when she could no longer visit the prisoners nor do her own correspondence, her secretary spent one day a week writing letters for Sister Peter Claver so that she could continue her work of "connecting people" to each other and to God. "You must say "Yes" to what God says, and "No, to yourself," Sister Peter Claver would tell the prisoners. Sister Peter Claver did just this. Her life produced "much fruit."

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January 28, 2005

ROSEMARY FIELDING writes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writings have appeared in O.S.V., the “Pittsburgh Catholic,” “Culture Wars” and the book, “Prodical Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home to the Church,” edited by Donna Steichen.

This article first appeared in the Jan 2, 2005 edition of “Our Sunday Visitor.” Copyright ©2005, Rosemary Fielding. All rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Rosemary Fielding

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READER COMMENTS
02.04.05   alexander caughey says:
At a time when we spend so much time denigrating and judging our church on its ample supply of dirty linen, it is so uplifting to read about this wonderful example of sacrifice of self, for the needs of all who are needy. So often we forget that we are in life to serve one another, so that in serving, we may never forget our needs are always bound to the needs of others.

02.01.05   Godspy says:
A fledgling ballerina in New York City, 20 year old Hannah Fahy asked God to make her life worthwhile. She spent the rest of her 105 years as Sister Peter Claver, ministering to prisoners.

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