Mountain State of Mind

EPISODE 3: 70 Years a Nun

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Sister Mary Pellicane has been a nun longer than most of us have been alive. On Good Friday 2016, she marked 70 years as a nun of the Sisters of Cenacle, 37 of those years spent in Charleston, W.Va. She’s 94 years old and has long been a spiritual icon of West Virginia. She grew up Sicilian on the streets of New York before discovering her life’s mission while on retreat in her early 20s. This is a companion podcast to the story below, published in the March 25, 2016 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

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NOT A SOUND: The quiet life of a nun who can’t stop talking

By Douglas Imbrogno
Charleston Gazette-Mail

There are several distinct places you might pick up the tale of Sister Mary Pellicane’s long life and hard-scrabble roots.

Along with her 94 years of age and still nimble mind — minus the occasional, self-confessed senior moments — the numbers alone are impressive.

Today, on Good Friday, at the West Virginia Institute of Spirituality, Sister Pellicane will mark 70 years as a nun with the Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle, 39 of those years as co-founder of the former Cenacle Retreat House on Virginia Avenue.

She has been a nun longer than most of us have been alive.

You might start her tale on small farms in rural Sicily, the land from which both her parents’ families and her father hailed.

Or perhaps on two ocean liners aimed for America across the choppy Atlantic Ocean, as those Sicilian country folk landed in the New World, and in New York City, several years apart but destined to meet.

If a fellow Italian with immigrant roots, like filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, were shooting her life’s tale, the opening scene might instead start with an overhead shot of the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

A young, comely Italian woman strolls across the bridge toward a short, handsome Italian fellow with curly black hair.

“He was so beautiful,” Sister Pellicane recalled of her father. “She was so beautiful,” she added, of her mother.

The couple began dating in Manhattan, she said. “She would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to save money on the bus. She’d save 5 cents, I think. And he would meet her there. Then they would walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge. They courted that way.”

Their romance soon blossomed into marriage. Along came a first child, a son, while living in a cold-water Brooklyn flat.

The second child was dark-haired Mary Pellicane, after the couple had moved into a warm-water Brooklyn flat.

Three more sons would follow as the couple undertook what Sister Pellicane dubbed the “immigration migration,” moving up and moving out of the immigrant ghetto where the family’s life began.

Her father was an ambitious, if ever stylish, man, even when young.

One day, as a boy, he’d been sent out shopping for family supplies. He came home and told his mother he’d run out of money for what he was supposed to get.

“Where did the money go?” his mother inquired.

“I bought a cane!” he said.

Sister Pellicane chuckled, as she nestled her thin, stooped frame in a chair in the meeting room of the Institute of Spirituality at 1601 Virginia Street E. Her own gray metal walking cane leaned upon her chair, a testament to the then-and-now of her long life … | READ ON