A Christmas Miracle

A Christmas Miracle

In 1907, a group of RCE sisters left their lives in England and France to set up a new community in Asheville, North Carolina. Initially they were to be given responsibility for young people in a sanitorium for women in the early stages of tuberculosis and those recuperating from the illness.  However, when they arrived the situation was not what had been agreed.  The accommodation provided for the sisters was terrible - they did not even have sufficient blankets for their beds – and many of the  young patients were seriously ill, and some of them died.  Mother Deplanck became very concerned about the situation and the welfare of the sisters, many of whom were young and none of whom were trained nurses.  Shortly before Christmas, they left the Sanatorium and rented a house.  They had very little money to celebrate Christmas. but Mother Deplanck wanted them to have a joyous time despite the difficulties they had faced.  She encouraged the sisters to ask God for something that they especially wanted for Christmas, leading the way by praying for turkey, in which she was joined by another sister, followed by prayers for candy, ice cream, pickles, plum pudding and parsley amongst other traditional Christmas goodies. 

 

Not much more was thought of this until the sisters returned from Mass on Christmas Eve to discover that someone had delivered two large turkeys to their house.  This was swiftly followed by a plum pudding.  As the day went on, everything that the sisters had prayed for was delivered apart from the ice-cream, the pickles and the parsley. In the evening, an old man came to the door with a bunch of parsley in his hand – it was all he could afford to offer but wanted to bless them with it.  The ice-cream and pickles arrived on Christmas Day to complete the sisters’ Christmas Miracle. 

- Summary from The Foundation Diaries

This story – now part of the annals of RCE history – is incredibly moving in its simplicity: these Sisters, who were facing such a challenge in their new role, still had enough faith to pray and believe for these things that would make their Christmas that bit better.  In a time that was so challenging for them, take a moment to imagine how the Sisters felt to be blessed in this way.  For these women of faith, to receive such a tangible sign of God’s provision for them through the amazing specificity of what was donated must have been the most profoundly moving experience – to know that they were loved and supported and thought of by so many people during what was an incredibly challenging time.  

On a blustery winter’s day in 2023, that story may seem like a lovely Christmas tale that has little relevance to today, but in a society which increasingly encourages individualism and personal success, the importance of community and looking after others cannot be underestimated.  It is often said that it is not money, status or property that defines a person but rather their friends and how they love people that really shows their true colours.  Catholic social teaching reminds us to always bear in mind the dignity of the human person alongside our responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable, and this testimony from the Sisters is powerful in demonstrating the impact of that.  Whether you believe – as they did – that the people who donated food and gifts were prompted by God to do so, or whether you simply appreciate the humanity of the townspeople blessing their newest neighbours, the power of their actions can have a lasting impact.

As we enjoy a festive season that is so busy and full of family and friends, take a moment to remember these Sisters – their lives lived in service to others and the sacrifices that they made to do so.  Let us be grateful for the gift that their legacy is to us, and carry it on in their name for future generations.  In the words of Pope Francis, our love for others – for who they are – moves us to seek the best for their lives.  Whether prompted by the Holy Spirit or just by what we see in the world around us, what a blessing it could be if we were to be part of someone else’s Christmas Miracle this Christmas. 

Mrs Laura Evans-Jones, Assistant Head