The way Sr. Lorna Mary Colosimo looks at it, when God calls a second time, there is no way to say no.
So on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Friday, Oct. 4, Sr. Lorna Mary, at age 83, made her first temporary profession of vows with the Franciscan Sisters of St. Clare. Some 71 years ago – at age 13 – she joined another Franciscan community, the Sisters of St. Francis in Millvale, Pa., known today as the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, and spent 25 years with that order.
In between, Sr. Lorna Mary met and married “the finest man on the face of the earth,” she said, describing Jimmy Colosimo, her husband of 21 years until his death in 2005.
“I am humbled, elated and so grateful to receive a second call, remembering his words, ‘you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’” Sr. Lorna Mary told your Catholic Herald in a recent interview at the order’s Franklin headquarters.
Having lived as a religious and as a married woman, Sr. Lorna Mary believes she’s experienced the best of both worlds, and is content with the choice that brought her to Wisconsin in April 2011.
“The longing of a prayerful life remained strong in my heart,” she said. “I desired to re-dedicate my life to Christ once again, to be his consecrated virgin.”
Sr. Lorna Mary first felt the call to religious life as a youngster in Pittsburgh where she was educated by the Sisters of St. Francis in Millvale. When she entered the convent, she was given the name Sr. Virgil, and for the next quarter century she lived in community and became a teacher. It was here that she met Sr. Mary Celine Stein, about eight years her senior, someone Sr. Lorna Mary looked to as a friend and mentor.
Sr. Lorna Mary enjoyed community life and teaching, but Vatican II interrupted her routine.
“I decided to leave because, due to Vatican II, there was much confusion,” she said, describing the day, at age 38, that she left the community with $100 and little more than the clothes on her back. A friend took her to a store, similar to a Kmart, and she bought a green dress and make-up to help her “fit into the world.”
For about two weeks, she said she hopped around among the homes of friends and her sister before finding an apartment of her own. She also landed a job as a waitress, she said, describing how she waited tables for about 11 days before quitting.
“I did not know one drink from another,” she said, adding, “It a was hilarious.”
Eventually, she returned to teaching, but after experiencing burnout in that career, took a job with the Pittsburgh Electric Company.
“When I first left the order, I was so confused,” said Sr. Lorna Mary. “I began to question my faith and question God, but the faith was stronger than I was, and it pulled me through and I remained faithful to the faith. I was always grateful for my vocation and spoke of it proudly to others and never hid it.”
Some 17 years after she left the convent, Sr. Lorna Mary’s brother-in-law introduced her to his coworker, an employee of the H.J. Heinz Company in Pittsburgh, who had never married.
As Sr. Lorna Mary, then 55 recalled, they spoke by phone on Dec. 12, dated on Dec. 15 and became engaged on Jan. 1.
“He needed me as much as I needed him,” she said, noting the following March 16, 1985, they were married in a big wedding “as if we were teenagers with the gown and the tux” where the wedding party included several former nuns.
Sr. Lorna Mary kept in touch with Sr. Mary Celine throughout the years after she left the convent and throughout her marriage. She kept her abreast of her life with Colosimo, sharing with her details of their travels, year spent living in California, the home the couple bought in Whitehall, Pa., and later their move to an apartment.
Sr. Mary Celine, meanwhile, shared stories of her ministry in Puerto Rico, her journey to Milwaukee, where she joined her aunt, Sr. Margaret Mary, then superior of St. Francis Manor, the House of Studies for the Franciscan Sisters of Pittsburgh in Millvale, Pa. After studies at Marquette University, she taught at St. Joseph High School, Kenosha, and founded the Franciscan Sisters of St. Clare.
Srs. Mary Celine and Mary Patricia Reilly, a sister who joined the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Clare, the order Sr. Mary Celine formed in 1977, visited Sr. Lorna Mary in 1990 when Sr. Mary Celine’s cousin Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was named bishop of Pittsburgh.
Before his death from a combination of heart troubles and diabetes in 2005, Colosimo and Sr. Lorna Mary enjoyed, “a wonderful retirement where we had more love than money.”
Throughout their marriage, when the subject of death came up, Sr. Lorna Mary said they each worried about the other.
“Through the years, even through my marriage, since my husband and I didn’t have children, we were always concerned for one another,” she said, explaining, “He’d tell me if something happened to me, he’d go be a cook for some priest since he did the cooking for H.J. Heinz and he cooked for me, and he told me (if he died first) I should join the convent.”
After Colosimo died, Sr. Lorna Mary moved in with her sister for about five years, all the while remaining in contact with Sr. Mary Celine. During several conversations and even visits to Milwaukee, Sr. Lorna Mary subtly inquired about the possibility of returning to religious life with Sr. Mary Celine’s order. She was intrigued with the ministry Sr. Mary Celine and Sr. Pat had created involving senior housing called Clare Meadows I and II, centered around a Catholic faith community for the residents.
Each time she asked, however, Sr. Mary Celine put her off, suggesting the community needed younger members.
Finally, about three years ago, Sr. Mary Celine responded differently.
“Well, Lorna, it’s up to you what you want to do, but you’d be most welcome here and be a sister with us,” she said, repeating words she told Sr. Lorna Mary.
Thrilled with the invitation, Sr. Lorna Mary said she didn’t want to ask her to repeat it, in case she had heard her wrong.
“I said, ‘That sounds great to me. I’ll be there as soon as my suitcase is packed,’” Sr. Lorna Mary recalled.
While it took a bit longer than that, Sr. Lorna Mary quickly disposed of most of her material belongings, including her car, and headed for Wisconsin with little more than a suitcase and her 7-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Annabella.
She received an open arms welcome from Srs. Pat and Mary Celine – although they were initially a bit lukewarm about the idea of the dog living in their convent. Quickly, however, they’ve come to love the little terrier who roams the convent’s halls and even the chapel freely, and she fits right in with Sr. Pat’s nine birds and the three cats who live in the garage.
Explaining why she initially rejected Sr. Lorna Mary’s request to join the community, Sr. Mary Celine explained, “You can serve God at any age; God does not look at the age of his (servants),” she said.
“But I wanted to make sure she was coming and wanted to serve God, not just because we were friends for so many years. I wanted to know that her intention was to serve God and become a good religious and spend the rest of her life trying to become the saint we are all striving to be, practicing poverty, chastity and obedience.”
In the nearly three years since she arrived, Sr. Lorna Mary has adapted to life in community, although she and Sr. Mary Celine agree that “obedience is still really hard for her.”
“I was in the world for almost 50 years,” said Sr. Lorna Mary, describing her years out of the convent where she had more control over her decision-making. “I would often say now and then, ‘Sister, I’ve been in the world so long, it’s difficult for me to ask permission or live a vow of poverty.’”
Describing herself as a “real Macy’s woman,” where her hobby was shopping, she said if she had time to kill, she loved to shop. She said she still goes to Macy’s occasionally, but now, as the order’s designated shopper, she only looks for things necessary to the community.
According to Sr. Mary Celine, “She fits in very perfectly with our mission and has learned to talk to the people spiritually. Sr. Pat, everybody loves her,” she said, adding, she’s so easy to talk to and she loves them.
As someone who has experienced married life, Sr. Lorna Mary relates well with those who have been married and is able to counsel them in a way the other sisters cannot.
The sisters’ ministry includes assisting at weekly Masses at the senior communities as well as individual visits with the residents.
Reflecting on her second call to religious life, Sr. Lorna Mary said, “Age is no longer a factor in discerning religious life (a vocation) in our Franciscan Community. If you are experiencing a strong desire and longing for union with Christ, he may be calling you.”