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Sister Cecilia, I Can’t Help But Wonder…


“The clouds of prejudice and misunderstanding which have so long enshrouded this whole subject of sisterhood in the church seems to be gradually vanishing as the light to experience dawns upon those willing to be taught.”

— Sisterhood of the Good Shepherd Annual Report, 1876.

Sister Cecelia gavesite


One can only imagine

Why an enslaved man would kill

Your father who “owned” him out-right,

Making you an orphan at the age of  8.

The notion that you became a nun

To atone for the sins of your father

Might be an unfair assumption.

Or did you wish to atone for the sins

Of the whole damn war your side lost?

Maybe it wasn’t your side at all.

I’d like to think you hated the war.

But still, you volunteered for the clean up crew,

Rolled up your sleeves, and answered the call.

Helping widows and orphans,

You could easily relate

having lost your father and husband.

Your mission was to help the poor

the sick, the homeless, the outcasts.

I can’t help but wonder

if that included black folks, too.

I want to believe it did,

Even unofficially

As God would have it,

Because that’s how you were.

You didn’t think of yourself.

You planted seeds of hope

that over the years grew into a church,

A church that welcomes everyone,

So inclusive, even this rebel

Has found a home.

Thank you, sister.

Rest in Peace.

Sister Cecelia cross

Gravestone close up

Sister Cecilia Lawrence was born in 1836 and died in 1894. She went to New York in the 1870s to become an Episcopal nun and returned to North Carolina in 1879 to start the Sisterhood of the Good Shepherd with two other sisters. They helped widows and orphans, the poor, and the homeless. They taught school at night since the children worked in the cotton mill during the day. In 1892, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd was erected and later became the Church of the Good Shepherd. In 1980 that church started a soup kitchen which eventually grew into a homeless shelter.  It was the soup kitchen, along with the blessing of the animals, that drew me to this church in 1985. Last Sunday, we had our first annual service in memory of Sister Cecilia at her grave.

Good Shepherd Window (2)


Author: JoAnna

An open minded, tree-hugging Jesus follower, former counselor, and life-long lover of animals, I'm returning to my creative roots and have published my first book: Trust the Timing, A Memoir of Finding Love Again as well as the short version: From Loneliness to Love.

17 thoughts on “Sister Cecilia, I Can’t Help But Wonder…

  1. It’s heart-touching Joanna!

  2. Such good stuff and so little know of this beautiful personal side to our history of civil war in the states–thank you for sharing– i would love to hear more of these stories!

  3. An interesting story. Bless the good nun and all that she did so long ago. I am wondering if the homeless shelter is still in operation? I could not get that from what you wrote but I m assuming that it is still helping the down trodden.

    • Thanks for asking. Yes, it is still in operation. The program outgrew the space at my church where it started and is now independent. It’s good to remember how it all started all those years ago.

  4. Wonderful history of the church and poem. It sounds like a special place.

  5. A beautiful poem and tribute, Joanna! I think it’s so important for us to remember those who have given so selflessly. Sweet blessings foe the upcoming weekend 💜

  6. This was such a caring way to tell us about a nun, Sister Cecilia who went beyond herself. I’m so glad you informed us of her giving spirit. 🙏 🕊 🌈

  7. Pingback: Biblical Yeshua/ Jesus or Another European Greco- Roman Jesus ?? – Jeshuaisten / Jeshuaists

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