Pointing toward the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Saint Benedict Monastery cemetery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, 61-year-old Patrick Norton recounts the day 13 years ago when he was painting light posts in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother and encountered who he believes was Sister Annella Zervas, OSB.
Zervas, a Benedictine sister, died in 1926 at the age of 26 of a debilitating skin disease.
Norton, who was plucked from the streets of Bombay as a child by Mother Teresa and later adopted by an American family, had been hired by the College of Saint Benedict on Oct. 27, 2010, to do some painting. He told CNA that while finishing up the last light post in front of the grotto he thought to himself, “I wonder if the Blessed Mother thinks I am doing a good job?” When he looked down, there was a nun in full Benedictine habit.
“‘You are doing a good job,’ she told me. We talked a little, but I don’t remember what it was about. Then I watched as she disappeared,” he told CNA.
An elderly religious sister at Saint Benedict Monastery — who also happened to be named Sister Annella — shared with Norton pictures of Zervas and a booklet about the young sister’s life called “Apostles of Suffering in Our Day” by Benedictine priest Joseph Kreuter, published in 1929.
“Why isn’t she a saint yet?’ Norton asked. “Oh, I’m in my 80s and I’m the only one promoting her cause,” she replied. “Sister, why can’t I help you out?” he replied. Norton said she just looked at him. “I didn’t have any experience but felt compassion for her, and also, I did see Sister Annella, so I felt I had to promote her cause.”
He read in the booklet that Zervas entered the convent at age 15 and died from a painful, unsightly, and odiferous skin disease at age 26. She was also subjected to attacks from the devil and from a heartburn that made it hard to keep food down. At the time of her death, she weighed only 40 pounds. Yet, she asked God to allow her even more suffering and for the strength to bear it so she could offer it up for the Church.
Every week, Norton made 10 copies of the booklet to pass out. “I went to Sister Annella’s grave and told her, ‘If I am going to make more books, I need money.’”