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Arkansas Catholic
Litlte Rock, Arkansas
July 22, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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July 22, 1990

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PAGE iS ARKANSAS CATHOLIC JtJLY 22, i 0 By Eva Opiela The Texas Catholic . Dallas. At first glance, Carmelite Sr. Mary Ferber would appear to be the tS!ereotypical "perfect" nun: the young .gtrl called to religious life who matured m the serenity of a cloistered convent. She appears so at home in her con- eealing habit. Her pleasant disposition [l friendly smile seem to confirm a lfe's Vocation as a religious. It is only after talking with her that Mhe realizes there is much more to Sr. ary. w Jewel Alkire, Sr. Mary's given name, as born Jan. 2, 1907, in the small [central Illinois town of Virginia. Her Iathe [d r, a young lawyer, and her mother, [ aughter of the town banker, had just Fettled down family steeped to raise a prosperous dilon, in the Episcopalian tra- ti" Tragedy soon struck the happy fam- ly When young Mr. Alkire died of ineurnoniajust two short months after el's birth. .Y the time Jewel completed the lghth grade, her mother could no llrtger resist her want for a milder cli- tnate and moved, with her daughter, to California. l Sr. Mary remembers the move to !weverly Hills as a good one. The town ! as just slatting to be built and Sr. Mary yemerabers i " :,'You could t as a lovely place where go into a restaurant and YOU'd see the stars over here or you'd lie W.~ll.. -- - u ang home and in the car next to Y wn_uld John Barrymore." -mien o do , y u re 15 or 16, that s tremen- .usl the 83-year-old sister said with a nkle in her eye. ,.. She went on to graduate from Holly- wood High School, in 1924, attend hack East, and marry fellow rg ia native Donovan Ferber in 1926. ue. Couple settled in Hollywood, where ,*e had - _.. a lucrative nosition in the secu- ties business, and beffan to raise a ' raily When the c " ' two oupie s three children- age .gtrls and a boy - were high school . , the family moved to what was then ew CUntry'subdivision called Pacific satles, north of Santa Monica. Life good for the Ferbers, until World "No one comes into your room. You shut the door and YOU're alone. That's your Peace.,, War II. " th ,."urt Ill, OK, in the fall of 1943. Less --"ql S" tx months later he suffered a to r_t attack and died History seemed " ePeat itsel left f as the young mother was ,, ",Une to raise the cou le's chi/dren ~3r, },m , P the ia*arY s mother, who had lived with rlee.,a ily for some years, provided , etl financial support as the young aler ---- , payroll Worked in Douglas Aircraft s to v l department during the day and an accounting degree at the Texas Catholic Sr. Mary Ferber fixes sack lunches at St. Vincent de Paul Center. University of California at Los Angeles at night. Sr. Mary said she received her first introduction to the Catholic faith dur- ing this time. Friends, concerned that her son would be raised without a male influence, urged her to place the chil- dren in boarding schools, Catholic if possible, as "they were cheaper." So she did. Then her son came home with a suggestion she thought she couldn't refuse. He said the Catholic school officials would really take kindly to his younger sister if his mother would "let them think that you are going to join the Church." After pondering the idea, Sr. Mary said she asked a nun at school for some information. But the nun promptly told her to contact the priest of a nearby church for help. "She was pretty smart," laughed Sr. Mary. "I didn't know hewas notorious for making convertsl" Soon she was taking private instruc- tions and forming friendshipswith Catholics in the area. On Easter Sun- day, 1949, she was received into the Catholic Church. From then on, Sr. Mary said, her love of the Church grew. Among the many retreats she made was one to the Carme- lite monastery in nearby Alhambra. A bond between the widow and the sis- ters was formed which would soon draw her into the religious life. With her children away at college or married, Sr. Mary said she considered more and more an answer to the call she felt. She took those first steps when she approached a Jesuit priest-friend during a weeklong retreat on Mary. "Halfway through I went to him and said, 'Father, do you think I'm crazy if I said I'd like to enter a convent2'" the sister recalled. His support prompted her to spend some time near the order's new foun- dation overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach. In 1953, she entered the Carmel of St. Joseph there, and five years later, on Oct. 15, 1958, she professed her final vows, becoming Sr. Mary of Jesus. She was 51 years old. Since then, Sr. Mary said, she has had "the most beautiful life." The spirit of a hermit that she has adopted has sel- dom caused her to look back, she said. "No one comes into your room. You shut the door and you're alone. That's your peace," she said. Wou are abso- lutely alone with God." Her days have been filled with prayer, contemplation and a feeling of content- Religious retirement Washington (CNS) - Despite $48 million collected in two years, receipts expected from the next eight annual appeals of the Retirement Fund for Religious "will never be sufficient" to meet the needs, said a report released July 10 by the Tri-Conference Retire- ment Office in Washington. A total of $5.6 billion would now have to be on hand to cover the retirement needs of 122,133 sisters, brothers and religious priests in the U.S., it said, but that money is not available. When U.S. bishops in 1988 approved a plan for allocating money collected over ten years through the Retirement Fund for Religious, $40 million was projected for the first two years, which was exceeded by $8 million. In 1987, the bishops backed an annual national collection to be taken up for ten years to help with the retire- ment, she said. Support from her family, who have visited her regularly over the past 37 years, has confirmed her deci- sion to answer God's call. She taught her fellow sisters to keep accurate and legible accounting records of the altar breads they sell for their livelihood, and learned from them the art of hand weaving, a pastime she enjoys immensely. And though she has had her share of medical problems, she credits her strong faith in the Holy Spirit with the health she enjoys today. An introduc- tion to the charismatic movement 20 years ago has brought her many inner he',dings through prayer, she said. As one watches her bag beans, rice and sandwiches at St. Vincent de Paul Friends urged her to place the children in boarding schools, Catholic if possible, as "they were cheaper." Center in Oak Lawn, her good health is indeed apparent. Sr. Mary is on leave while a new convent is being built for her order near Santa Barbara, CA. The new carmel, as the Carmelite houses are called, is an effort to provide a Catholic presence in an area heavily influenced by the New Age movement. For now, she said, she is enjoying her time in the world she left 37 years ago. Visits to the homes of children, grand- children and great-grandchildren fill her days. "I think the Lord wants me here," she said with a smile. (Eva O[ffela is a staff writer for the Texas Catholic. Reprinted with permission.) I SenNz? d us yours! fund: needs money ment needs, with the first collection set for December, 1988. Grants to orders from the 1988 campaign averaged $350 for every reli- gious over age 50. The new report said there were "some signs that the remedial activities are having some success," such as: * Cash investments available for re- tirement grew from $2.8 billion in 1987 to $3.9 billion in 1989, reflecting in- creased contributions by orders into retirement plans, higher interest on those accounts, and distribution of tri- conference collections. * Average maintenance cost for re- tired religious, while still rising, was down from an increase of 7.9 percent a year in 1985-87 to 7.2 percent for the period since 1987. * More orders requesting assis- tance. So far, 136 have been helped and another 106 are asking for help.