Just as one of the sisters was checking Weather.com and reflecting on the predicted power outages the electricity went out! It was about 2:15 PM on Saturday. The snow had been falling heavily since late morning and was quickly accumulating.
Immediately, sisters pulled out flashlights and Office of Readings and None were prayed in the community room which is across from the Choir. The rest of the afternoon was spent finding candles and creating holders out of jars. The soap department had 50lbs of pumice so that was quickly brought up to the kitchen to weight the jars. Nuns don’t like to throw out anything and there were boxes of accumulated candle stubs from the altar and from past community celebrations. Even the left-over paraffin tapers from Candlemas and the Easter Vigil were put to good use. As the days went on the sisters got creative with the tapers creating multi-taper creations which gave off quite a bit of light. These were dubbed, “the Martha Stewart Collection”.
On Sunday our extern sisters, Sr. Maureen and Sr. Mary Cecilia, drove over to Newark to the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart for the annual Vocations Mass and reception afterwards. Meanwhile back home a crew was clearing out the refrigerators and freezers, packing whatever food they could in snow brought up to the cloister. (Not all monasteries are built according to Hollywood and ours has the first floor cloister on the second floor!)
We cooked as much food as we could and whether it was the cold, anxiety or because we were working so hard but everyone commented that she was eating more than usual! While we were able to save a lot of food with our “snow fridge” more than half of the walk-in freezer contents had to be thrown away. Fortunately, the insurance company told us that it was covered.
Thanks be to God we have gas stoves and running water and the stove top was constantly filled with huge pots of water for washing dishes. Sr. Mary Catharine and Sr. Mary John made what Sr. Mary Jacinta called, “Haitian coffee” and the mulled cider was a welcome treat. By All Saints ice cream was definitely “soft serve”!
The altar was adorned with the Benediction candelabra creating a beautiful glow of light! We use 100% beeswax candles and they really last! For Mass Fr. Gregory would use a book light and battery powered utility light. Office was sung a Capella and candles and flashlights provided the light we needed.
Everyone commented that with all the power sources off the house was immensely quiet and that any speaking really traveled. The microphone wasn’t even missed at Mass! As it got more frigid the sisters began wearing cappas under their piles of sweaters and shawls for Mass, Office and adoration.
On Monday, Jeff, our handyman, got our 1960′s generator going and we were at least able to power up the electric wheelchair and scooters for the elderly sisters as well as recharge the cell phone. It made a lot of noise but everyone else in the area had their generators going so it didn’t really matter!
We adapted our schedule to take advantage of the daylight and spent the evenings huddled around the refectory tables enjoying each others company. Most of the conversation was on the creative ways everyone was employing to try to stay warm! Sabina was obviously confused but happy that she could be with us so much! With so many branches falling and with the gate open for the plow she had to be kept indoors.
When the power came on Tuesday night we were singing Vespers. It was amazing to see the monstrance throne light up! We suddenly realized that the power was back and Sr. Mary Martin immediately left to turn on the heat! At recreation everyone looked really tired. Sabina epitomized just how everyone was feeling as she curled up on the rug under the community room crucifix and went to sleep. She never stays in one place during the night but the next morning as we came to Lauds she was still there wrapped up in a blanket!
This experience was hard on everyone, but it was also a wonderful experience of the community coming together and responding to the situation. It was a wonderful opportunity to practice charity and self-sacrifice and everyone rose to the occasion. As they years go by and we tell stories of “remember when the power went out” we’ll probably forget how cold and dirty we all felt and remember how wonderful it was to be together, living our monastic life of prayer no matter the circumstances.
And we’ll never throw out a candle stub!
Saturday afternoon: Sr. Maria Teresa cooks supper with a little help from a book light and Sr. Joseph Maria!
Saturday Compline: Praying Compline in the candlelit refectory. By Sunday afternoon we had set up all the Paschal Candles in the choir at strategic places and had ferreted out every flashlight we could find.
St. Dominic’s garden. This tree has split in about 3 different places. No more shade on the garden!
The Romantic Refrigerator! Evening recreation huddled around the serving tables in the refectory. Between the many candles (at least 25!) and us, we had enough warmth to be comfortable!
The power outage didn’t stop our Halloween Party. One of our guests was St. Therese! St Simon the Stylites, our Lady of Lourdes and a Methodist minister from Japan enlivened our party. Bl. Jane of Aza was to appear but alas, her sewing machine needed electricity for her to be properly attired! (The Methodist minister was Sr. Mary Cecilia because when we applied for her R1 status the paperwork got messed up and we were told that that is what she was! We’ve never let her forget it!)