YONKERS, N.Y. -- As a chef and restaurateur, I'm often called upon to create celebratory dinners for significant events: the opening of a major film, the launching of a new product, the wedding of a dear friend, an anniversary, a bar mitzvah, promotion , graduation or a special birthday.
For the past several years I've been making the trip to Brentwood Long Island to celebrate the birthday of my dear Aunt Marie. Aunt Marie is a nun, specifically a Sister of St. Joseph, and this past Friday, Oct. 30, we celebrated her 102nd birthday.
Sister Edward Joseph, the name she took when she entered the convent in 1930, was in great spirits as she always is, with a smile that never seems to leave her face. She was dressed in her habit as she has been every day since she was 17-years-old, some 85 years ago.
Aunt Marie still wakes every day at 6 am to say her morning prayers, dresses and finds her way downstairs to attend morning Mass, have breakfast and lunch with the other retired Sisters and read the New York Times.
As I arrived last Friday, the church bells were ringing loudly and playing happy birthday. When I stepped through the large heavy doors into the convent and up the steps, there was my Aunt Marie with her walker, beaming and welcoming me to her home. We walked together down the long corridor to the connected chapel where a Holy Mass in her honor was to be offered.
My Aunt Marie dedicated her life to those less fortunate than her. She has worked in inner city schools teaching everything from French to biology; she's also worked with the indigent and sick, the elderly and infirmed, and always found time to send a handwritten note reminding us all she had us in her prayers.
As the Mass was coming to an end, after several wonderful remembrances of Sister Edward Joseph’s pastoral work, I could see at the back of the church a small group of the workers at the convent-- nurses, housekeepers and food service workers -- peering in to join the celebration and to wish a very happy birthday to a very special woman.
As we headed back down the long marble corridor towards the cafeteria for the celebratory dinner I’ve been fortunate enough to attend for the past several years I could see the lovely pink and white sheet cake we would all enjoy as the fitting end to a joyful occasion.
This column is a continuing series by Chef Peter X. Kelly of Xaviars Restaurant Group which runs every Thursday.
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