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Finneran: The Singing Nun

Friday, April 13, 2018



Even now, more than a quarter of a century ago, I remember the laundry. The laundry and the singing nun. Truth be told, I’ll remember her to my dying day for she always made me smile.

She was a joy to talk to. She brought a beautiful warm human spirit to every conversation, even those concerning the most mundane things.

You’ll recognize the backstory as the humdrum reality of family life. A summer cottage, seven grandchildren under eight years old, their parents, their grandparents, and a handful of friends. In other words, a mob. Meals are crazy and laundry piles up quickly. Sheets, pillowcases, socks, underwear, shorts, and tee-shirts. That’s a small mountain of laundry every day. Then there’s the other mountain---beach towels, the Mount Everest of laundry.

A beach towel for me is an easy deal---swim, dry off, roll it up for a pillow while cat-napping on the warm sand, and repeat several times a day. Then, at day’s end, you shake the towel out and hang it on the line to dry. As noted, easy-peasy. That towel is good for at least three or four days of use before it hits the laundry pile.

Not so for grandchildren, however. Somehow the adults have surrendered to the whims of children and they agree that precious little Joey and precious little Suzie cannot possibly re-use the same beach towel the next day. And so the beach towels pile up, every day, into a mountain range of laundry.

Enter the singing nun. Her name was Hilda and she was a cousin to my wife’s grandmother. We visited her on our honeymoon in Nova Scotia and several years later she came to visit with us on Cape Cod.

What a delightful visitor. If she saw dishes in the sink, she sprang into action. If it was getting close to mealtime, she’d take over the kitchen. And if the laundry piled up, she was a wash-dry-fold dynamo. All tasks were done of course with either a story to share or a song to sing.

I had spent enough time washing-drying-folding myself to utter an occasional curse about matching kids’ socks, sorting kids’ undies, and folding what seemed to be fifty beach towels a day. Sister Hilda’s attitude was just the opposite of my self-pity. She looked at all chores as an opportunity to help God’s flock and no task was too inconvenient. I think she saw her mission in life as one reflecting the joy of God’s message of love and life eternal. To lighten another person’s load and to carry that load with a song in her heart was her absolute joy.

She came from an accomplished family with either an uncle or a brother who was a big-shot bishop up in Canada. Of even greater renown was her brother Danny Gallivan, the long-time voice of Hockey Night in Canada and the Montreal Canadiens. Of course, you know that hockey is virtually a religion in Canada and that the Canadiens are seen as demi-gods. Thus Danny Gallivan was an even bigger big-shot than the bishop.

I never met the bishop or Danny Gallivan. I’m sure that they were fine human beings. But I’m just as sure that Sister Hilda was the most accomplished of them all. Even now, when the laundry piles up, I think of her songs and I remember her smile. And I stop complaining.

What a faith. What a family. Sister Hilda, the singing nun.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio


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