Celebration on the Wing


I was sitting in the chair under Mom’s picture when the phone rang.  Sister Marguerite was sitting in the opposite chair beside the little chest with all the maps.  She noted the striking image, from her vantage, of Mom beside and behind me (and, of course, Honey and Duffy).  Although the indications had been favorable, I felt a little relieved to hear Sister Mary’s kind voice.  I also felt calm, as if this were the most natural thing in the world after many years of shared mission and friendship with the Sisters of Mercy.  That is as it should be.


Natural miracle

In July 2004, my friend Sister Marguerite and I were at my family’s cabin on the Metolius River preparing for the first-ever SVdP’s Catherine’s Center retreat here.

I was also awaiting news of my being accepted as a Candidate with the Sisters of Mercy. The phone rang.


Sister Mary, then-president of the regional community, spoke good news.  After nearly two years of my informal and formal Inquiry process, the regional leadership team had considered my application that day ~ many pages delving into every aspect of my life ~ and voted to invite me to take the next steps with the Sisters of Mercy.

The rest of our crew would not arrive until the next day.

We poured two glasses of red wine and sat in white chairs on the bridge.  As we spoke of how all this had come to pass, a remarkable thing happened.

A male Western Tanager ~ bright yellow body, black wings with pale yellow wing bars, brilliant red crest, sparkling black eyes ~ serenaded us, a celebration on the wing.

For perhaps an hour he sang his evening song, flew up and down and around a few feet in front of us over the musically rushing water, and perched quizzically on the railing as near as seven feet from us.  He looks like a tropical bird because he is ~ he lives in Mexico or Central America during the winter and spends summers on the Metolius.  He continued the serenade even after Karen and Jon came.

I have never seen a Western Tanager do this.  In fact, according to more than one website source, “These birds are common throughout western North America but as they prefer to feed and nest high in the forest canopy they are also very elusive.  Birdwatchers are often surprised at how difficult it is to spot this bird despite its wonderful plumage.”

Although my formal process with the Sisters of Mercy ended unexpectedly a few years later, I have always felt this natural miracle to be God’s gorgeous way of affirming my vocation to vowed apostolic religious life. My personal celebration habit evokes the wonder and beauty of Celebration on the Wing.