Longtime Concord nun dies at 100 after 75 years mostly in silence

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 04-03-2023 7:42 PM

Sister Emmanuel of the Virgin Mary died on Sunday, March 19 at 100 years old after living more than three-quarters of her life in near-silence dedicated to the Carmelite Monastery.

She began her years of service and prayer at the Carmelite Monastery in Boston in 1945 at just 23 years old. A year later, shortly before her first profession, she was asked to help found an extension of the monastery in Concord on Pleasant Street, where she lived for 74 years until it was closed in 2020. She was relocated to the Marie Esther Home in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

Born in 1922 to a devout Catholic family, Sister Emmanuel, whose birth name was Florence Letitia Sache, was taught to take care of her family and make their meals by the age of 9, said Father Maurice Abasilim, who has been the Chaplain for the Carmelite Sisters for more than 10 years. She lived with her mother and had a brother that was in the Navy, which made for a very strict and formal upbringing.

“The Catholic culture was very strict growing up in the 40s and 50s and since she professed in 1947, she has been in the community with us,” Father Abasilim said. “She took a vow for poverty, chastity and stability and agreed to live by the obedience of her superior and do whatever He says.”

As part of her vows, she promised never to marry, have children or engage in sexual exploits, to live and die with the Carmelites and to live silently in prayer, he continued. In her primary school years, she attended Boston Latin and later graduated from Boston’s Emmanuel College before her profession and commitment to the monastery.

“From my personal perspective, she lived a good part of her life very deeply spiritual and believed in the love of Jesus Christ and how to use that love to transform the world,” Father Abasilim said. “She had found her cause to leave the love of Jesus Christ to the people of the world.”

As Foundress, she was always a faithful and dedicated Sister who served with devotion and generosity toward her community and the many who contacted her. She was elected as the Prioress of the Community multiple times and though she needed assistance in her later years and had to step down from the role, she continued to be present at all community functions, according to her obituary.

As Prioress of the Community, she was known as the superior of the religious order of the house by the members of the community. The role is usually only three years, but because Sister Emmanuel was elected multiple times, she spent most of her time serving in that position.

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Through her time spent in almost total silence, she learned that her mission in life was to live everyday to witness the love in the world and in those around her and share her mission with those who crossed her path, Father Abasilim said.

“For the time that I stayed with them, I rarely heard her speak but if she wanted to say something important, she would say it with very few words,” Father Abasilim said. “She had the power of using her eyes to speak in a very reasonable way; to greet you, to show you appreciation, to discipline.”

She enjoyed planting oak trees around the monastery in Concord, many of which she planted earlier in her ministry as a nun and have grown tall and strong. The property was closed in 2020 after 74 years of providing a home for nuns to live a cloistered religious life, part of a pattern seen across the United States as the number of nuns continues to decline.

At the time of its closure, only four to five nuns lived on the property, a stark contrast to the dozens that called the monastery home at its peak in the 50s and 60s. Most of the remaining nuns were elderly, including Sister Emmanuel, which led to the decision to close the monastery and move the sisters to other Carmelite institutions where many were reunited with Sisters from their earlier days.

The property remains vacant on 39 acres of unused land, which was most recently assessed by the city for $3.38 million while the structures themselves were valued at $345,500, city officials said. It has not been listed for sale by the Carmelites.

Sister Emmanuel’s life was celebrated on Monday in the chapel of the Saint Joseph Cemetery in Bedford. The Mass of Resurrection was led by Father Abasilim and she was laid to rest on the Carmelite Sisters’ plot near the chapel.

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