By: Sr Margaret Ann
The morning after experiencing my first hurricane, my thoughts and concerns were rapidly running every which way. We had just endured fifteen hours of torrential rain and unrelenting winds of over 110 mph. In the deepest part of my heart I was grateful – grateful that we had been spared what could have been much worse devastation. Yet we were all exhausted from the week of preparation, watching the projected path of the hurricane as it vacillated to our right, then to our left, or marking us as a dead-on hit. Preparing for the worst, we had moved most of our belongings from the convent to the school, affectionately known as “ACC”, since it is a solid structure.
Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, Florida, where I serve as principal, has been my home away from home for two years. The Carmelite Sisters have taught and administered this school since 2002, and I eagerly accepted my assignment to serve here. What took me by surprise were the numerous challenges that I came up against, the likes of which I had not experienced in my 14 years of administration. There was work to be done, and undauntedly we went forward.
Venturing outside that morning after hurricane Irma, I felt something like Noah coming forth from the ark. The sight of toppled trees, signs and piles of brush everywhere was indeed sobering. There was much to do, so we naturally went into high gear to survey the damage and to begin the recovery process. I live in community with three other beautiful Carmelite Sisters who also serve at ACC. I could sense that we all just wanted to get back to normal, so we split forces to begin to make that happen. And as our work progressed, I became more hopeful that normalcy would soon return. This is surely when the Lord showed up with an unexpected plan!
The road from the school to the convent was almost completely blocked on both sides by a tangled mass of fallen trees. I saw one car try to make it through by going up on the muddy side of the road and nearly hit a neighborhood brick wall. It was a dangerous situation, so I decided to get the chainsaw from the school closet that I had used during one of the yard clean-up days.
The hours went by on that hot, muggy morning as I struggled to saw and move the trimmings out of the road. Little by little, a lane was opened. At one point, I grew tired, and was tempted to quit. However, remembering how fortunate we had been, I stuck with it, and my work became a prayer for those who lost homes and were struggling for the bare necessities. Hope provided the strength to persevere.
After a while, a single lane of cars began to pass. Some would wave and give me a thumbs-up or shout ‘Thank you!’ I wasn’t aware, but at one point a neighborhood police officer who was off-duty took a short video-clip of me and then posted it via Twitter on the Miami-Dade Police Department site.
Within an hour of posting, it went viral. CNN was quick to pick up on it, and requested a live interview with Erin Burnett, which took place in the front yard of the convent. From that moment we received numerous requests for interviews with local, national and even international stations. There was even mention of the ‘chainsaw nun’ on the recent Emmy awards, and now a country singer has even written a song!
At first I wasn’t sure what all of the hubbub was about. But then I began to sense that the Lord was doing something beautiful… something that wasn’t really about me. I think He wanted an instrument to remind us all that He is with us and that His goodness is shown forth in the help we give to one another. Since I wear the full religious habit, I am a representative of the Church, a member of the Body of Christ lending a helping hand in time of crisis. Hope remains when we focus on God, move beyond thinking of ourselves, and reach out to assist our neighbor.
For ACC, this publicity seems to have happened at a time when so many things are coming together for us. The Lord has sent to us a truly amazing staff that is dedicated to the mission of a Catholic school. The students approach me now in a more relaxed way with a twinkle in their eye since I’ve been in their world of social media. Parents are happy and proud of their school. Faculty are enthusiastic about new endeavors to continue to take our school to the next level. Our whole ACC family is feeling the spark of joy and increased unity. Every aspect of the school community seems to promise hope for a bright future and a growth in enrollment.
As I ponder these past couple of weeks and think about the insignificant chainsaw story that I have told over and over again, I marvel at God’s faithfulness. There are times of darkness and struggle, and then, unexpectedly, there are times when the storm suddenly clears and passes. I’m so personally grateful for God’s tangible presence and for my gift of a religious vocation. Our lives are not merely about giving a good example, but about being Christ for a suffering world. Our God is truly faithful, and my prayer is that we all strive to respond to the Lord to the fullest possible extent as His trustworthy servants and friends.