day in the life: sister perpetua.

a life of service.

i recently began working on a personal project, a life of service, to document the lives of people who devote their life to serving others. for my first study in service, i spent a day with sister perpetua moellering – an 87-year-old catholic nun who works everyday fulfilling her ministry of the sick.

sister perpetua lives in the pallotti convent in laurel, maryland with three other nuns, all in their 70s-80s. it seems that a life of service isn’t as popular among young women as it once was – sister perpetua entered the convent almost 70 years ago, but rarely sees young nuns entering today. 

sister perpetua (who is commonly referred to as “sister p”) begins her day at 5am joining the other sisters for daily mass at their private chapel, located inside the convent. she then proceeds to the church rectory, just a block away, where she shares an office and starts her work day. ministry of the sick involves visiting members of the community  who are – in a variety of ways – homebound. due to extreme illness, chronic pain or some other ailment, these individuals are unable to attend mass. sister p visits for 15-30 minutes: chatting, inquiring about their family and their health, discussing current events. she brings with her the latest church newsletter, a copy of the catholic standard newspaper, and most importantly communion. together they join hands and sister p prays for their individual needs and families.

for as much as she comforts those she visits, she always reminds everyone that no matter how bad their present situation is, there are many people suffering worse all over the world. she is grateful for so much and encourages everyone not to dwell on their own pain but be concerned citizens of the world.

sister p no longer drives, and therefore relies on volunteers to transport her to the homes she visits. the day we spent together she made four visits. additionally, on saturdays she holds bereavement meetings at the church. her days are filled with prayer and service, and her free time is spent with her gorgeous lab, molly. 

everyone who knows sister perpetua is in awe of her spirit, her strength and her faith. for me, her life epitomizes a true life of service, and i feel incredibly lucky to have spent the day with her, learning about her life, her faith, and her philosophies.

 

*  *  *

a life of service is an on-going project where i combine the photographs and essays from days spent documenting the lives of people who serve others. if you know an outstanding member of your community that you would like to nominate for this project, please email me – i’d love to meet them.

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28 Comments

Filed under a life of service, photography, photojournalism

28 responses to “day in the life: sister perpetua.

  1. MK

    Jaime,

    So glad to finally see the images after telling me so much about Sister P. Beautiful. We could all learn a lot from her.

  2. Chris

    I need Sister P to give me a kiss on my forehead and make everything better. The pictures look very peaceful.

  3. Julia

    So envious. As a strong Catholic (not perfect, just one of faith and commitment) I would LOVE to spend a day with a sister! What a neat and cool project. good luck!

  4. Denise

    Jaime

    We all need to take a lesson from Sister P. How lucky you were to be able to spend the day with such a special person.

    I love the picture of her hands – it captures her many years of hard work – I bet she is going to heaven.

    Denise

  5. wow, how inspiring :) thanks for sharing this! her eyes are brimming with kindness.

  6. Chris Brant

    Jaime, I love your story and pictures of Sr. P. They are so beautiful. You are very talented. I’m so proud of you!!

  7. Denise Steadman

    Dear Jaime,
    What a magnificent story in pictures!!! I’ve known Sr. P. since I arrived at St. Mary’s over 22 years ago. She has always been an inspiration. You are very talented and I wish you every success. I’m proud to have been your second grade teacher.
    God bless you,
    Denise Steadman

  8. Mia Laughlin

    Jaime,

    What a lovely tribute to Sr. P. The pictures of her and your text are inspirational and so very beautiful. You are a fantastic photographer! You have so captured the essence of a beautiful and selfless woman. I used to do the lunch room with your Mom years ago at St. Mary’s!! Keep up the good work!

    Mia Laughlin

  9. Joann

    Love your story about Sister P! Your photos are beautiful and really capture her spirit! What a great project to work on. May we all learn something from these personal profiles!
    Call me when you get a chance. I want to catch up!
    Joann Donnellan

  10. Karen McCahill

    I attended Pallotti High School in the 1960’s when Sister Perpetua was a young energetic presence who inspired us all with her enthusiasms. I think she even coached the cheerleaders! Thanks for the lovely portrait of one who has touched so many with her spirit and goodness.

  11. People have no idea what joy comes from a life of service. Mother Teresa wrote,

    “The fruit of Silence is Prayer.
    The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
    The fruit of Faith is Love.
    The fruit of Love is Service.
    The fruit of Service is Peace.”

    Let’s all take a cue from two beautiful women who share the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

  12. Dear Jaime,

    Thank you for your gift of service and sharing your talent. Sr. Perpetua is a incredible God-given gift to our Pallottine Sisters. As provincial, I am unable to thank you sisters enough for all that they do–no matter their age. Your documentary is also a wonderful thank you and honor to her.

    So in turn, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Sr. Gail, S.A.C.

  13. Marsha Raymond

    Jaimie,

    Thank you for the wonderful gift of pictures of my dear friend and officemate! She brings so much joy into our lives and your lovely pictures captures her essence. You are very talented and I am so proud of you.

    Marsha Raymond
    St Mary of the Mills Social Worker

  14. Mary Maestrelli

    I attended Pallotti High in the ’60s where Sister Perpetua taught business classes. She was a legend even back then.
    My comment relates to the statement that Sr. Perpetua joined the convent 30 years ago. Surely that is inaccurate. She was teaching at Pallotti long before I got there and I graduated in 1965.

  15. Sr. Izabela Swierad

    Jaimie, thank you very much for bringing the life and indefatigable ministry of our beloved Sr. Perpetua to global venue. She is God’s gift to our Congregation; she is a treasure not only for Laurel people but also for all of us. Who sees her sees Christ. She is a woman of faith and joy and never tires of sharing the love of Christ, especially with those who are in need. Being with her is like a spring, which brings new life, bright light and enduring hope to every heart. Being with her is a grace. Thank you Sr. Perpetua!

    Congratulations, Jaimie for this inspiring idea!

    Sr. Izabela, SAC
    General House in Rome

  16. When I clicked on this post the first thing I saw was her eyes… they look exactly like my grandma’s, who died a couple of years ago and still is much present in my everyday life…
    Then, the rest of the photo kept on downloading… what a feeling!
    Thx,
    Rosie :)

  17. Linda Weaver

    What a beautful piece on Sr. P! The photos captured her goodness…it just shines through! You certainly have a gift to see the most telling and interesting aspectsof your subject. We are all so honored to know and love her! She is truly the epitomy of christianity.

  18. Joan Nickel

    Thank you for the write up about Sister Perpetua- she was my teacher in High School and a wonderful person. These pictures show True love for mankind- unlimited love! These are the kinds of people who, indeed, bring you closer to God.
    God bless,
    Joan Nickel

  19. Great story about sister P. I met her this year when I visited the pallottine convent in laurel Md, in my search for the ideal order to begin my life of service with. I must say that sister p. extented her kind hand to me , she made my decision real-l-l-ly really easy. she is definitely GOD sent.

    Adieu,

    Jeri Butler

  20. Celia Craze

    Jaime – What a beautiful and moving telling of a few hours in the life of one of God’s finest creations. I have never known anyone with a heart as warm and giving of love as is Sister’s. You have captured the spirit of an angel.

    Celia Craze

  21. Chris

    I will miss Sister Perpetua. My life has been blessed knowing her. May God continue to bless her for her “yes” and His love she brought to everyone she met.

  22. Catherine

    My brother forwarded this website to and I am so grateful. Sister Perpetua (Sister Peppy my brother called her) is our dear, precious aunt, who we will miss deeply. She touched our lives in the sweetest way. My daughter described her in one word, “Grace” and I totally agree. She was the most selfless, caring, giving person I will ever know. The memory of her love and gentleness will stay with me. She was a mother friend to me. I ‘m so thankful for her last visit this past August. Thank you for the extraordinary tribute to such an extraordinary woman; you captured everything of who she was and always will be in my heart.

  23. Melina

    Thank you for truely capturing my great aunt. As a photographer, I was in awe of your work and your love for capturing the real heart of others. We know that pictures capture things people don’t always get to see, but not every photographer knows how to do that. You have. This made a tear fall because this is truely her. I will miss her very much. She brought so much fun and life to everyone she was around, never herself complaining. I’m sure you could tell that by knowing her. Thank you that we will have a wonderful memory of her.

  24. Sharon Sefton

    Jaime, Thanks so much for coming to Pallotti High School and sharing with my photography classes yesterday. You obviously have a lot of passion for what you do and you do it exceptionally well as evidenced by your work, especially the photojournalism piece on Sister Perpetua. With all the craziness and scary things in the world today, I’m glad you reminded us all that there are still holy people out there whose lives touch others with love. I think you, too, do that in your own way with your loving spirit and bubbly personality. I look forward to seeing more of your work!

  25. Kyle Hammersmith

    Sister Perpetua was my teacher for 5th and 6th grade at St. Mary’s. She had a way of working in God’s ministry into every lesson we had. One day in late Januray 1986, during science lesson we watched the Challenger disaster with her and Mrs. Ewing. Sr. P helped us all understand and process the events with meaningful words and prayers. I will never forget her.

  26. Tom emey

    Was sister P a principal at st michaels in south glens falls ny back in the early sixties

  27. jane litzau

    Sr. Perpetua was my 5th grade teacher at St. Angela Merici in St. Louis in the 60’s. Of all the teachers I had in school, I still think about her often. She was the only teacher I ever had who I felt truly loved the children unconditionally. And the kids respected her because of it. She never had to raise her voice to get the class to mind. We did it because she exuded love and respect and we gave it back to her. I often think of her and wish I could have seen her after I became an adult but I know she moved out of town and is now deceased. I’m sure she is with God and his angels in heaven.
    Jane Eisenbath Litzau

  28. Dora Landolina

    Sr. Perpetua was my teacher when I was in fifth grade at Immaculate Conception school in Pittsburgh. That was in the 40’s. She was a beautiful person. I visited her a few times during the summers in Huntington, WV. at the Pallottine motherhouse. I will always remember her kindness, humility and peacefulness.
    Dora Landolina

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