Friends around the world express grief and awe
MERIDEN, CT (07-10-2016) - Condolences flooded in to the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist by email, mail, texts and telephone as friends around the world heard the stunning news of the death of Mother Rosemae Pender, FSE, Mother Foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. Mother Rosemae entered eternal life suddenly during the celebration Mass for her 75th Jubilee of vows at the Franciscan Sisters’ Chapel of St. John. Mother Rosemae had received the renewal of vows of Mother Shaun Vergauwen, FSE, Mother General, also a jubilarian, and then renewed her own vows into the hands of Mother Shaun. Following the renewal of vows, Mother Rosemae presented the Constitutions (rule of life) of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist to Archbishop Emeritus Henry J. Mansell, principal celebrant, during the offertory procession. She then suffered a heart attack and died before the end of Mass. Over 260 friends, religious, and priests were present in the chapel for this most profound and historic moment.
Several persons in their heartfelt messages exclaimed, "Only saints have such a blessed death!"
Mother Shaun Vergauwen, FSE, Mother General, announced the day of Mother Foundress' death that the Community would wait to hold the funeral until the Sisters from all the centers arrived as already scheduled for the Community retreat and meetings in early July so everyone could be present. "We need to grieve together," Mother Shaun said. Mother Rosemae's body was brought to the Chapel of St. John for a private wake on Saturday, July 9th, after being cared for by the Community funeral directors/embalmers, Sister Patricia Glass and Sister Frances Zajac, in coordination with Wallingford Funeral Home.
The Sisters kept vigil through the day and night until the public wake on Sunday, July 10th. Friends near and far, old and young, came to pay their respects to a religious woman who had influenced hundreds of persons through the years by her perceptive wisdom, words of encouragement, strength of humble leadership, and depth of prayer.
Mother Rosemae had requested to be buried in a simple casket made of wood. Two close friends, Charles Giampietro and Steven Petrowski, crafted the casket out of wood from an elm tree which had to be removed last year for the building of the formation house addition on Allen Avenue. The Sisters in formation oiled the wood with a natural oil. The interior was lined with an elegant white silk cloth from China, a gift given to the Community years ago and saved for a special occasion. Sister Collette Maritim, FSE and Wilma Jacunski masterfully prepared the lining.
Father Christopher Tiano, pastor of St. Mary the Immaculate Conception Church, Derby, Connecticut, offered Benediction at the closing of the public wake and the Sisters continued their vigil until the next morning.
On the morning of July 11th, the Community of 85 Sisters gathered for the closing of the casket and procession by car to Holy Angels Church in South Meriden.
The Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford, was the principal celebrant for the Mass of Christian Burial. Concelebrating were The Most Reverend David Walkowiak, Bishop of Grand Rapids (Michigan); Very Reverend Mark Mealey, OSFS, homilist, Diocese of Wilmington; Reverend Paul Scalia, representative of Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington; and 22 priests from the Archdiocese of Hartford, the dioceses of Providence, Norwich and Palm Beach and religious orders from Connecticut, New York and San Francisco. Religious Sisters and Brothers representing nine congregations from Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts filled the pews behind the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist.
The Very Reverend Mark Mealey presented the homily on three sayings of St. Francis de Sales related to the Scripture and the life of Mother Rosemae: during life we seek for God, death is the moment when we find God, and eternal life is living with God. Archbishop Blair offered condolences to Mother Shaun and the Community prior to the final blessing.
In the late afternoon, the Sisters, Brothers and Apprentices gathered for the burial in the Transitus Cemetery. In their tradition, the Community all participated in the burial and concluded with St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun. Each one remembers in her or his heart Mother Rosemae's blessing in the words of St. Francis, "I bless you all that I can and more than I can, and what I can not do, I ask God to do in you."
See photos of the funeral Mass and the burial.
Numerous articles have been written about Mother Rosemae's death, for example, see National Catholic Register feature story, God Writes Script for Franciscan Foundress' 75th Anniversary.