By Rebecca Drake
(Photos courtesy of Monastery Greetings)
Editor's note: The telephone number for Monastery Greetings, publisher of the book, was incorrect in the previous version of this story on iobserve. It has been corrected below.
SPRINGFIELD -- The life of Springfield native Frances Drake Nevins ended on Dec. 16, 1980, 11 days after she was found unconscious on the cold floor of an outdoor hermitage in Schenectady, N.Y.
But the story of this deeply holy Carmelite nun is just beginning, thanks to the recently published book, Frances Nevins, Mid 20th Century Carmelite: Friend, Scholar, Wife, Nun and Mystic. Written by Pittsfield native Joan Ward Mullaney, the book is termed a “documented biography” by its author, who was a close friend of the woman whose unfailing love for God, and for humanity, is revealed in retreat notes, journals and personal correspondences.
A longtime professor and dean of social work and sociology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Professor Mullaney met Frances when both were assigned to a Boston College residence for graduate students. Coincidentally, Professor Mullaney had then just completed a social worker assignment at the House of the Good Shepherd in Albany, N.Y., and Frances was teaching at the House of the Good Shepherd in downtown Boston.
The two struck up a friendship that lasted 25 years, ending with the death of Frances, known in religious life as Sister Christine of the Holy Spirit, at the Carmelite monastery.
“She walked very quickly. And she dressed better than any teacher I ever knew,” says Professor Mullaney, recalling her first meeting with Frances.
Both young women also drove convertibles, and they shared interests in religion, spirituality and medieval history. “She always had a book in her hand,” Professor Mullaney says.
The book’s prologue notes that Frances Nevins was born in Springfield on Aug. 17, 1930 to a Catholic father and Protestant mother. She was baptized in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, but did not attend a Catholic church as a child.
Born to a wealthy family, the young Frances attended the former Classical High School in Springfield for two years and then was transferred by her mother to a boarding school in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. After her graduation from college, Frances was briefly married to a man who had been studying to become a minister in the Episcopal Church.
However, a visit to Rome and an audience with the pope awakened Frances’ desire to become a practicing Catholic and, eventually, led to an annulment and divorce when her husband would not promise to raise any children they might have as Catholics.
Her spiritual quest began in the community of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and then, after only eight months, Frances entered the Carmelite community in November of 1960.
“She lived a pretty full gamut of life – going from the socialite world of yachts and parties to the life of a cloistered Carmelite nun,” says Professor Mullaney. “She combined her natural gifts – brilliance, fine education, social grace – with extraordinary spiritual gifts of love.”
Professor Mullaney, the recipient of Catholic University’s highest honor, the President’s Medal, and of the Benemerenti Medal awarded by Pope John Paul II, was asked to write the book by Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.
“He did not prejudge the outcome; he expected accuracy and fairness,” she says of the bishop, who presided at Sister Christine’s funeral.
Author Joan Ward Mullaney
Asked if she learned anything new about her friend when she wrote the book, Professor Mullaney says, “I always knew she prayed often and that she was very focused. I learned that she went from depth to depth. She was seized by God and, as she said, ‘I never tried to wriggle out of his hand.’
“Like St. Teresa of Avila, she could write about her experiences of God.”
And, for those who read the book, the author says, she hopes they will “meet Frances Nevins and know her as I know her – as a dear friend and a rare and holy woman.”
Professor Mullaney also has a wish for Frances: “I hope that someday she will be declared a doctor of the church, the first from the U.S.”
Frances Nevins, Mid 20th Century Carmelite can be ordered by contacting Monastery Greetings at 1.800.472.0425, by fax at 216.249.3387; or online at www.MonasteryGreetings.com. The book also is available at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge by calling 413.298.3931 or visiting www.thedivinemercy.org.
An interview with Professor Mullaney and a local man who knew Frances Nevins will air on the Feb. 2 edition of the Springfield Diocese's weekly newsmagazine program, "Real to Reel," which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.