A 56-Year-Old Mystery Solved

by Melannie Svoboda SND on September 24, 2018

I entered the Sisters of Notre Dame on July 2, 1962. Several weeks before I left home, I received an anonymous letter. It was hand-written and five pages long. The person who wrote it tried to convince me to change my mind about becoming a nun. He/she wrote: “I want you to have my thoughts before you do something which, in my opinion, you might regret.” The rest of the letter gives several reasons why I should not enter the convent.

First reason: I was too young to make such an important decision. (I wasn’t quite 18.) I should wait at least five years until I had more life experience. In becoming a nun, I would be giving up my basic freedoms—what to do with my life, where to live, what to wear, etc. I would also deprive my family of my companionship. (We nuns were not allowed to go home in those days, and our visits with family were very restricted.) And finally, I would be giving up marriage, “one of the most sacred relationships in life” and having children of my own. These were all arguments I myself had raised as I struggled with my decision. But the desire to enter was stronger than these arguments.

Since I couldn’t have a conversation with the person who sent the letter, I wrote a response in my diary to the letter. Then I tucked the mystery letter in my diary, put my diary in a box with a few other items, left the box in my parents’ attic, and entered the convent. I never saw the letter again until many years later. And I always wondered: WHO wrote it? Obviously, it was someone genuinely concerned about me—and my family. The person was a good Christian, because he/she made several references to Jesus and his teachings. Was it a neighbor? A relative? One of my girlfriends? A former boyfriend? I never knew. Until now 56 years later. Here’s how I discovered who the author was.

A little while ago, I happened to get in touch with a “boy” from my old neighborhood. (He’s 76 now!) I’ll call him Joe. I once thought that perhaps his mother had written the letter or his older sister, “Donna”—or even he did. So in one of my emails I told him about the letter. He assured me he didn’t write it, but he remembers that my entering the convent “was the topic of conversation at many family dinner tables in the neighborhood.” He suggested I send him a sample of the handwriting to see if it was his deceased mother’s. I did. He responded immediately. It was not his mother’s handwriting. But he would check with his sister.

Donna assured him (and me) that she didn’t write the letter. But as soon as she saw the handwriting, she knew who did: her sister-in-law! Donna’s sister-in-law “Edith” (now deceased) lived across the road from us and next to Joe and Donna’s family. She was a good friend of my mother’s. I picture my mother talking with Edith and saying, that although my parents had given their consent for me to enter the convent, my decision was very difficult for them and our whole family. It was very hard “losing Dolly” so soon after graduation. Edith, being the good Christian and good friend that she was, took it upon herself to pen that letter.

(Pictures courtesy of Sr. Sandy Nativio, SND)

So finally the mystery is solved. But in the solving, I had several thoughts:

* I was reminded that I had grown up in a great neighborhood. Though our houses were far apart, I recall Edith and her husband “Stan” sometimes stopping in just to chat with my parents. And we four kids were always taking vegetables from my Dad’s large garden to the neighbors or a loaf of my mother’s homemade rye bread. In addition, my mother always took “Agnes,” our next door neighbor, grocery shopping with her on Friday mornings because Agnes didn’t drive. Back then, neighbors knew each other and did favors for each other. Do neighbors still do that?

* And we neighborhood kids did things together too: we’d stand and wait for the school bus together every morning, go for hikes in the woods, hunt for crayfish in the creek, walk a mile to Foster’s (called G & L’s back then) on Route 6 for an ice-cream cone, ice-skate on one of the three ponds in our neighborhood, and play baseball, croquet, or horseshoes—usually on our huge front lawn or in our back fields.

* And finally, after solving this mystery, I prayed to Edith, thanking her for taking the time to write that letter 56 years ago. Her last sentence was this: “I pray that you will consider these things and do what is God’s will, but that before you do anything, be sure that you know what God really wills for you.” I wanted to write back to her: “Dear Edith, Thank you for your love and concern. I entered the convent 56 years ago. And I’m still a happy nun. I think this life was God’s will for me! Love, Dolly.”

Have you ever solved a mystery in your life?

Do you have any mysteries in your life that remain unsolved?

Do you have good neighbors where you live? Are YOU a good neighbor?

PS: I ask for your prayers for a retreat I will be leading September 30 to October 6 for the Holy Cross Sisters at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. Thank you very much!

Here is a beautiful song by Joy Zimmerman entitled “The Gift of Light.” (You can visit her website at www.joyzimmermanmusic.com.) She told me she asked people to submit images of hope and light and then she put them together for the video. The lyrics are not on the video, but here they are:

Every wondrous day may you pause to remember

All the gifts you have received,

The ones that you were given long before your birth,

And those that you receive each day on earth.

(Refrain) May you know the gift of love along the way

May you share the gift of peace this day

May you find the gift of hope to give away

May your spread the gift of light we pray.

 

Any responses to the story, the questions, the song?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne September 24, 2018 at 4:47 am

Beautiful words, song, and pictures as always. Thank you. Good way to begin the week. Will keep you in my prayers. Joanne

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Judy September 24, 2018 at 5:34 am

Thanks, Melanie, for always being so honest and reassuringly positive about Life, the Way and the Truth of it!
Your choice of music is always uplifting as well. Blessings on the retreat!
Judy

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Kathleen September 24, 2018 at 6:02 am

Thanks for sharing Melanie.

I appreciate your honesty in sharing your life experiences. Will keep you in prayers.

Kathleen

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susan September 24, 2018 at 6:39 am

Sister,
This song says it all and the music and video are the perfect accompaniment.
Thanks for brightening my morning!
Susan

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Barbara September 24, 2018 at 8:07 am

Very, very beautiful and so appreciated. I began about a month ago to write in a small book a reflection for the day and I am putting her song in for this day. We do so need to remember each day all of the gifts we receive. Thank you and have a joyful week. Barbara

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Pete September 24, 2018 at 8:08 am

Wow! 56 years. That’s how long my wife and I have been married, and each day is a new journey. We recently moved and one of the first things we did was to meet our new neighbors, and establish ourselves in our new church community. Sharing the “gift of peace every day”. A blessing.

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Mary September 24, 2018 at 8:53 am

So much to think about with this…….first of all, there is a mystery and then there is MYSTERY. What first came to my mind is the MYSTERY of grief, for it truly is that…….a mystery that will perhaps unfold in tiny little pieces for the rest of my life, but never be fully known.

My husband died about 2 1/2 months ago, so grief is a common theme for me, but I had such a grace-filled moment yesterday, when our choir sang the after communion song which was to a 3/4 count and was about the peace that goes beyond the world’s understanding of peace. I had a beautiful vision of my husband and me waltzing together with him singing those words to me…..that he was giving me a peace beyond what the world gives……it was truly a blessed memory I will allways treasure.
Thank you for the opportunity to put this experience down in words, Sr. Melannie

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Melannie Svoboda SND September 24, 2018 at 11:10 am

Dear Mary, My deepest sympathy to you on the death of your husband. Your “vision” during the singing of the song by the choir was a lovely one. I know I’m always tempted to get up and waltz when the hymn is in 3/4 time! May your “blessed memories” and little visions give you peace and strength during this time of loss. Sr. Melannie

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Mary September 24, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Sr. Melannie,

I am deeply ouched by your response……thank you.

Mary

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Fran September 24, 2018 at 9:55 am

The song is so uplifting. Sometimes it is hard to recognize the gifts you have been given. I so appreciate the kindness of my neighbors, and try to be a good neighbor too. So yes, Sister Melanie, neighbors do still interact. It begins with one step, and let it begin with me!

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fran September 24, 2018 at 10:04 am

Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Fr. Gregory Boyle SJ who started Homeboy Industries the largest gang-prevention program in the world. The gift of God’s Love is there for each and every one of us. It is up to me to say, “yes”. Things can only happen if I’m willing to respond. I ask myself, How will I open God’s gift today?

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Ed J. September 24, 2018 at 10:17 am

Sister,
How the years do pass, and the memories that come flooding back. I waxed nostalgic while reading about your old neighborhood as a kid. Riding our bikes, wiffle ball, hide and seek after dark, marathon monopoly games on rainy days, Reed’s Drugstore for chocolate milkshakes (sitting on stools at the soda fountain, of course!). Some of my neat memories as a young boy. Bet you’re glad you saved that letter all these years! And so am I. Peace and Blessings!
Ed J.

Ed J.

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Rosemary LeVoyer September 24, 2018 at 12:21 pm

Happy Monday, Dear Melanie,
Such a wonderful way to begin the week. I, at the moment, can not think of any mysteries, but your words put me on the lookout!
You always share such personal stories of your life, and that is why so many of us see you as a personal Friend. God bless you this week in your journey, and may those you are sharing with feel His love
Rosemary

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jhopkins September 24, 2018 at 12:46 pm

What an amazing story, Melannie! So glad you solved the mystery. Thank you for another thoughtful meditation on the beauty of life and all its mystery.

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Josita September 24, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Dear Melannie,
Thanks so much for sharing that interesting story. I can relate to it because I was only 13 when I entered and being the spoiled youngest sibling, no one thought I would stay. Here I am 64 years later loving the life I have lived all these years. God’s goodness and love have been so present to me.
Praying that your retreat goes well. Love, Josita

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Jean Canatsey September 24, 2018 at 1:09 pm

The mystery that stands out in my mind was one my youngest daughter, Sarah, and I solved together in 1993. She was working on a 4-H Genealogy project and I remembered hearing my grandfather tell about his Dad being killed in a shoot-out at high noon in Shoals, IN when he was about 2 years old (circa 1882). Several of my cousins & I remembered the news paper clipping stored in a cigar box on Grandpa’s coffee table but he was deceased and no one knew where it was. After several months of phone calls, letters, etc. we received a call from the Martin County, IN, Historian. We made a spur of the moment trip to Shoals, IN and discovered we had been looking in the wrong county. The Historian sent us to the Washington Township Library in Davies County, IN and we started micro fishing. We discovered that there was no shoot-out at high noon in Shoals but our Great-Grandfather had been shot by the bartender at a Community picnic in Washington Township while he was trying to calm down his drunk brother. Mystery solved and Sarah won the grand prize at the fair for her project!
PS And we have a great neighbor who lives across the street!
,

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noelle September 24, 2018 at 4:17 pm

What a wonderful story. Just yesterday a neighbor across the street came and took my very dull mailbox and painted it for me. I now have a shiny like new mailbox with new gold numbers. And, in two weeks when I return from a visit with my sister my next door neighbor will pick me up at the air port. I am truly blessed to have such nice caring neighbors. Prayers going your way for a very Blessed retreat.

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Joy September 26, 2018 at 8:57 am

Sister Melannie, I am honored that you’ve included my song in this wonderful post, and I’m grateful for “the gift of light” you share with us each week. Thank you, thank you!

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Melannie Svoboda SND September 26, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Dear Readers, This response is from Joy Zimmerman who wrote and sang today’s song! Joy, I am grateful for you and your beautiful music! Sister Melannie

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Marty September 26, 2018 at 11:25 am

Your reflections and songs burrow into memories of warnings that grandma told us about knowinh and accepying lur gifts anf talents: “seems an old gent wss on his deayh bed when he saw ghostly figures standing around hid bed. Who or what sre he asked? Answer we are your gifts and talentd you failed to see and use and we are angry because we now fade into nothing” may we not have the same moment Be not afraid to know and use our God given gifts. Thank you for the reminder!

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Hilary September 26, 2018 at 12:50 pm

How profound this story is, how deeply it resonates with me. That the Lord found a way for this mystery to be solved after all this time.. and that you still had the letter, so it could be. And the reflection of the entire situation on such a broad level, from the personal to the community. How glorious that you were shown your true path and obeyed the call. What Grace!
Thank you so much for sharing this so fully.

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Tom September 26, 2018 at 9:39 pm

Your story reminds me of Albert Einstein’s discovery, when going through his mother’s memorabilia, that his first grade teacher had sent him home with the note: Albert is too dumb for the classroom; you teach him at home, instead of what his mother read to him: your son is too brilliant for the classroom; you teach him at home.

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Joanne Roviaro September 27, 2018 at 5:56 pm

SISTER MELANNIE JUST A FEW WORDS ABOUT YOUR RETREAT THIS COMING SEPTEMBER 30TH. I WENT TO ST. MARY’S ACADEMY IN SOUTH BEND, INDIANA AND WAS TAUGHT BY THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY CROSS. BEING A BOARDER AT THE ST. MARY’S TAUGHT ME MANY LESSONS IN MY LIFE. I KNOW RIGHT WHERE YOU WILL BE AND MANY THIS TIME BRING A LIGHT TO YOU AND THE SISTERS. THANKS FOR YOUR WONDERFUL STORIES, THEY ALWAYS GIVE ME A BEAUTIFUL MESSAGE. JOANNE

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