The news, when it came, was delivered via email, which shouldn’t really have been surprising — so much of our communication these days, even about terribly sad things, is done in snippets of text pinging back and forth between tiny screens.
It’s the we make plans and the way we stay connected, and last Wednesday it was the way I learned that Sister Angela Lydon had died.
Seeing that email, I instantly remembered the first time I met Sister Angela, a woman many Goochland and Powhatan residents would come to know from her role in the heroic effort to preserve the legacy of Powhatan’s historic Belmead property.
We’d met that day for an interview about the project, and shortly after I introduced myself she had pulled out her cell phone to save my contact information.
Having spent my early school years under the strict tutelage of a group of nuns who appeared to eschew most modern conveniences, it amused me to see a sister with a cell phone.
My amusement seemed to amuse Sister Angela much less — and perhaps not at all — but fortunately it was the first and last awkward moment we would share.
Looking back on it now, of course she had a cell phone. She also had a PhD, a distinguished career as an educator, and the kind of contagious, indomitable, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done kind of optimism that one might imagine was present right before someone decided to build the pyramids or summit Everest for the first time.
Even when a task seemed impossible, Sister Angela remained undaunted.
I will never forget trailing behind her as she led me on a tour of St. Francis de Sales, the once magnificent structure that had served as a school for black and Native American young women during a time when few other educational opportunities existed for them.
By the time of our visit, on a bright but blisteringly windy and cold day in early March, the property had been caught in a sad, slow spiral of decline for decades, the once gleaming floors now rotting away and the chapel’s iconic bell tower crumbling in on itself.
To anyone else, the site surely would have looked like an irredeemable catastrophe. To Sister Angela, it was simply glorious.
“Look at the day the Lord has made!” she cried, her face tilting up toward the bright sun as we stood outside the school. She thrust her arms out wide and turned back to face me: “Isn’t this simply wonderful?”
Through chattering teeth, I had to agree that it was.
As we talked, she shared her thoughts about the building and the grounds, and the many careful steps that would need to be taken to first stabilize and then restore the historic structures. She had an unshakable belief that the property needed to be used in a way that would help people most in need, and an unwavering faith that the whole plan would eventually come together.
I suppose a cynic might say that it didnt ultimately happen that way, that she and her fellow crusaders would sadly run out of time before they saw their dream fully realized.
And yet I have no doubt that their efforts have served to inspire an untold number of people to champion worthy causes that others might dismiss as a waste of effort, to go forth and do Gods work even when the road ahead is uncertain.
There have been plenty of times over the years, especially when faced with an obstacle that seemed all but insurmountable, that I have looked back on that day and remembered Sister Angela Lydon’s extraordinary courage and fortitude.
And though I hadn’t spoken to her in many years, when the email came last Wednesday I missed her instantly and with my whole heart.
So many people touch our lives each day, but few leave an impact that helps us to see the light in even the darkest times.
“Look at the day the Lord has made,” they call out to us. Isn’t it simply wonderful?