Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Art of Letter Writing

Letter from Sgt. Helmut "Eric" Nimke, June 1943, to Matilda "Pat" Milazzo
Eric is 21 years old and Pat is 18 years old
My father lived into his 92nd year and Mom is plugging away as she approaches 90. Last August 3rd would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. So even though my birth places me just in advance of the official "Baby Boomer" cohort their long lives have brought me late to grieving the death of a parent. Many of my fellow 'boomers" have already experienced this as yet another rite of passage, an experience that brings deep reflection and arrival at a new place in life. I have already experienced the realization that I, wonder of wonders, am now an elder.

This experience also brings many tasks with it. One that has occupied my sister and I for months is that of sifting through all their treasures; all that they saved so they wouldn't forget; all they gathered and kept around for the sheer beauty and preciousness of each item.

My current project is that of organizing and preserving a cache of over 1,000 letters exchanged by my parents from the fall of 1942 to the fall of 1945; from my father's induction into the Army Air Corps and his return from overseas service in Guam (Pacific Theater).

As a student of history, a professional librarian and now archivist, I believe this collection will be a valuable addition to any collection of WW II materials. They will eventually go to a research institution. But now I am reading them, putting them in protective sleeves and then binders. I know the rest of the family will want to see them. But there are so many - eventually perhaps 15 binders - that no one will really have the time to read them all. So I flag the interesting or touching ones, the ones that offer valuable commentary on the way of the military, conditions on the home front, conduct of the war, national and international politics and especially some new insight or revelation concerning family events and persons.

This telegram dated July 2, 1943, four days before scheduled wedding in Brooklyn, NY reads:
 "Darling - Furlough cancelled before my eyes 4pm - Crying as I write this - Am proceeding to
 Key Field Meridian 11:15pm as per orders Adjutant General Washington -
 Even Colonel does not know why - Call everything off - Be a soldiers wife -
Will buck like hell for furlough at Field - Nothing definite - Another wire will follow -
Yours forever - Eric"

This letter is really three pages with writing on both sides of each sheet in my father's very small
handwriting. Written in pencil these are particularly difficult to decipher. But plainly seen is the USO
emblem at the top and the admonition "Idle Gossip Sinks Ships" at the bottom of each sheet.

The love that my mother and father found in each other at such a young age is quite incredible. Their story deserves retelling. More to come.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Most Recent Challenge

Many years ago Dad told me there was a box of them in the attic; a box of all the letters he and my mother exchanged while he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He told me because I was amazed that he came up with the letters they exchanged at Easter in 1945 just before I was born. He had dutifully climbed the pull down stairs, uncovered the box and searched through his collection and hers for the Easter time letters. The effort was in response to my request that year to each family member attending our Easter dinner at Mom and Dad's to come prepared to share a memory of Easter from the past. Little did I know how far back Dad would go.

So as we disturbed my parents' home, a home so carefully and loving decorated and arranged in the work of two lifetimes, I knew what the attic had in store for us. A box measuring 18x15x15 inches was packed with letters meticulously bundled and organized so that Mom's letters to Dad were on the bottom and his letters to her on the top. There are easily over a thousand letters, the vast majority two or more pages in length. Interspersed in the collection are letters from others - family and friends and men in the service.
I have opened and read letters from the fall of 1942 to the fall of 1943 and filled five large loose leaf binders with archival plastic sheet protectors each containing one letter and its envelope. All the letters (newspaper clippings, magazine articles, concert programs, etc.) are in wonderful condition but envelopes a bit ragged.

This is not the only process involved here. The other is deciding where this valuable collection should eventually go. And valuable they are. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Steeped in the Past

Matilda Milazzo Nimke 1924

New sidebar photographs come from a growing collection, now swelling with the addition of my father's carefully preserved collection. What does one do with such a collection? Digitization is enabling me to share all of them with everyone in the family and also to use them in unique ways.
But what of the process of discovery, looking, studying, remembering, and re-experiencing the past. Every boomer who has had to sift through, organize and distribute the various treasures of their parents knows the complex current of emotions which can threaten at times to just overwhelm.
In the past various collections and specific objects found in my parents' home have been written about here. More is coming.
BTW - By the way....If you wish to automatically receive these posts in your e-mailbox scroll down the sidebar of this blog and enter your e-mail address in the space provided. Easy as that.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Our Story

Monastery of the Incarnation
Beacon, New York
Carmelite Nuns
Redemptoristine Nuns

Redemptoristines of New York Rejoice in New Home

It has been a long and difficult journey. But now our community (formerly of Esopus) has finally found its way to a proper monastic home in the city of Beacon, New York. We are sharing sacramental and liturgical life, beauty, silence, and spaciousness in the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation.  We are making history in this arrangement; two different canonical religious groups living under the same roof. We have received the blessing of our Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the diocesan Vicar for Religious who view this development as a healthy response to the signs of the times. We would like to share with you how we came to this decision for our community.
In January of 2011, we were informed by the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists that they would be leasing the property of Mount St. Alphonsus and that we would have to find a new home within 2 to 3 years. Four months later we learned that we would have only one year to relocate. The decision made by the Redemptorists was a wise and prudent one, but not without difficulties all around. In the end the property was sold. A bit of gold in this story is that the buyers invested a great deal of money in restoring the building and are lovingly caring for the property. The seminary building is now a private Christian high school.

We searched long and hard for a new home; a suitable monastery. We visited over 40 sites in five states and researched many others via the Internet. By the spring of 2012 we were ready to purchase a Franciscan friary in an urban New Jersey parish. At the last minute we had to give up that plan due to environmental contamination problems with the property. Having only 5 weeks to find a place to live we were fortunate to arrange rental of space in a building owned by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart only 5 miles south of Mount St. Alphonsus. We moved on June 25, 2012. All of our furniture was stored in a gymnasium in the same building. It was a crowded and very awkward space for our life but it did offer spectacular views of the Hudson River.

In January of this year the Missionary Sisters informed us that we would have to leave the property by the end of June. We had already hired professional consultants who work with religious communities to create relocation plans. Everyone went full speed ahead to find the right place for us in a very short period of time. Through the months of searching we learned that private homes require too much remodeling for monastic use and local laws can sometimes interfere in that process. We also learned that former convents, novitiates, etc., required a great deal of repair and adaptation to accommodate the elderly and handicapped. We also knew that it would be very difficult to have daily Mass wherever we went. As the process went on we saw our personal resources diminish as sisters aged and required more care. We had to ask ourselves, “Is it realistic for us to buy a property and take care of it into the future?” Our consultants found situations for us in a few continuing care retirement communities which offer independent or assisted living as well as nursing home care at the same location. These facilities offered great care for our sisters needing assistance. However, the rest of us would have been separated into various buildings. In such an arrangement our communal contemplative monastic life would have been destroyed. By April of this year, we were disheartened and very discouraged. We had two months to find a new home and move.
From September of 2012 through 2013 the Carmelite community of Beacon was prudently examining their own future and their ability to remain on their lovely property. Our two communities have enjoyed close friendship since the 1960’s as members of the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities (MACC). In 1985, the Carmel of New York City moved to a former Ursuline Novitiate in Beacon. During the 1990’s they merged with two other Carmels, added a new wing to their building to accommodate a total of 30 nuns and redesigned the chapel. By September of last year there were only 15 sisters living in the monastery. They wondered how long they would be able to stay in a half empty building. Their options were to rent space in the building or move to a smaller place. Neither option was an attractive one. During this time they followed with heavy hearts our story of disappointment and displacement. At an April community meeting with their professional facilitator present they spontaneously put the planned agenda aside and began talking about what it would be like if they invited us to come and share the house with them. By the end of the meeting they voted unanimously to issue an invitation. Within two weeks the councils of the communities met and the generous invitation was accepted. We had exactly seven weeks to plan the move and make all arrangements.
Two other big decisions were made. Three of our sisters (Sisters Mary McCaffrey, Mary Anne Reed, and Lydia Lojo) would move to Meadowview, an assisted living facility in Mt. Vernon, New York.  At Meadowview they receive all the care they need and join many Franciscan and Dominican sisters in residence there. The second decision was to retire from our work producing ceremonial capes for the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. We have done this work since 1985. It was a good monastic work, well organized by Sr. Maria Paz and then passed on to others. But we had to recognize that we no longer had the number of sisters required to produce 200 capes a year.
On June 11 three sisters moved into Meadowview Assisted Living. On June 23-24 six sisters moved to Beacon and received a most loving welcome from Carmelite community. We have lovely bedrooms in their new wing, a community room now called Celeste Hall, and offices for prioress, treasurer and secretary. We are blessed here to have Mass every day provided by a delightful rotation of priest. Only two days after moving in we had a wonderful celebration for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in a Mass concelebrated by the Redemptorist Provincial, Rev. Kevin Moley, and his Council.
In our decision to accept the Carmelite invitation we were acknowledging the signs of the times; fewer vocations, fewer priests, aging sisters. We were also acknowledging our deep desire to preserve our contemplative vocation. We saw that we could do that by joining forces with another contemplative community and sharing the sacramental, liturgical life already established in their horarium.
This is not the ideal that we had in mind when we set out on our journey in search of a new home. But we came to see that given our circumstances, resources and the limited choices before us this arrangement was the most life-giving for us all. We believe the Holy Spirit worked mightily in the hearts and minds of each sister in both communities. We have had to accept losses but we have also embraced new life and welcomed with grateful hearts the opportunity to live out our Redemptoristine vocation. Jesus Christ is the center of everything in this Monastery of the Incarnation. Could we ask for more?
“It is our desire to create together an environment that fosters the growth and well-being
of each Sister’s contemplative life as lived in the Carmelite and Redemptoristine traditions
and that has the potential for creating together opportunities for effective outreach
to the larger community and Church.”

 Redemptoristine Nuns
89 Hiddenbrooke Drive
Beacon, New York 12508
Fax 845-831-5579




Catching Up Again

View of pond and Mt. Beacon
from the front of the monastery
         Seems I spend much too much time   offering apologies on this blog, especially for not having written a post in such a long time. Seeing that my last post has a February date and thinking how I can fill in the gap is very daunting. So much has happened in these few months. The following is just and over view and will be written about in greater detail in posts to come.
April 17 - My father Helmut Eric Nimke died after one week in Kaplan Hospice Residence in Newburgh, New York. Both my sister and I were with him.
April 25 - Carmelite Nuns of Beacon, New York (a contemplative monastic community) extended an invitation for my community to share their monastery.
April 28 - My family begins the arduous work of clearing out my parents' home.

June 11 - Three of the sisters in my community moved to Meadowview Assisted Living at Wartburg continuing care retirement community in Mt. Vernon, NY
June 24 - Six sisters of my community moved lock, stock and barrel into the Monastery of the Incarnation, Beacon, NY.
July 14 - My mother hospitalized with pneumonia. This is followed by 3-week stay in nearby nursing home.
August 18 - Mom is returned to assisted living facility, The Promenade, Tuxedo, NY.
That is a very spare overview which allows lots of room for your imagination to conjure what was involved and required each step of the way.
As a means of providing our community story to all in our international Order I prepared an article detailing the entire saga. That will the next post to this blog.