On April 1, 2008 the mortal remains of our beloved Sr. Mary Francis Peters were laid to rest in St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery. A Solemn High Requiem Mass was offered for the repose of her soul, preceding the burial, and the Church was filled with clergy, religious and faithful (many from out of state) who came to pay their last respects. The Mass was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever attended and certainly the most majestic Requiem I’ve experienced. Sr. Mary Francis was “waked” from the Church for a couple days prior to the funeral, garbed in her habit and “crowned with myrtle”, the wreath of immortality…the same way she was crowned at the beginning of her vocation, so very many years ago.
This interesting article gives a bit of the history of the myrtle wreath. Written in 1868 it gives a touching picture of the virgin “bride” – the only one allowed to wear this adornment:
To the German bride, then, high and low, the
myrtle wreath is the real bridal emblem, to which
only the virgin has a right, and which, of course,
the widow (in case of her being* married again)
has no right to wear. Young girls will plant a
myrtle when a child, and watch its growth till
the happy day on which they will cut it for a
bridal wreath. It is considered unlucky to give
away the graceful branches of such a myrtle to a
fair friend who is going to be united ” for better
for worse ” ; these branches must form the wreath
of the young girl herself who planted the myrtle,
or become at least her ” Todtenkranz ” (death
wreath), if she should not marry. It is also
considered unlucky to make a bridal wreath—
“Brautkranz”—with the natural flowers of the
myrtle; artificial ones are always substituted for
the former, even if the little bush were to have
blossoms at the time its branches are used. Such
a wreath, then, is very becoming to a fresh youthful
face; and there is a German saying, that there
is no plain German bride, meaning that her attire—
at least her wreath—is so becoming.
If a young girl dies, she also wears such a
myrtle wreath in her coffin; and it was the custom
formerly to hang up a similar wreath or crown,
made of artificial myrtle, in the churches and in
the chapels in tbe churchyards, especially in the
country. This is the so-called ” Todtenkranz.”
It must be an old Greek custom, probably derived
from the usage of adorning the altar of Venus
with myrtle wreaths when a young girl died.
Pliny mentions such an altar of Venus, afterwards
called Murtia; he also speaks of three different
kinds of myrtles—Patritia, Plebia, and Conjugalis.
Virgil speaks of yEneas encircling his brow with
the “materna myrto ” when visiting the grave of
his father: —
What else can be said of Sr. Mary Francis?
She was an amazing woman! Clad in the traditional habit of her order, she carried two cell phones and a laser-pointer and has even been seen on the back of a Harley! She was quick witted, dramatic and a fiery defender for anyone whom she felt was unfairly persecuted. She passed out rosaries among the children, offered advice to struggling parents and was a good friend to those privileged to know her. She will be missed.
To quote my little Emily, as we prayed beside her coffin: “I really likeded her, Mommy. She was nice to me…”
To those who think the religious life is a vocation in barrenness…seeing the many mourners, hearing the testimony of those who were touched by Sister…hers was a fruitful vocation, one which will bear fruit for years to come.
Sister Mary Francis Peters, OSF November 6, 1925 – March 29, 2008
Requiescat in pace