There were numerous elected officials, religious women, priests, family members, community leaders, CCBF board members, and friends in attendance. I rubbed elbows with State Rep. Tom Villa, 11th Ward Alderman Matt Villa, 13th Ward Alderman Fred Wessels, 25th Ward Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner, Mayor Slay, Collector of Revenue Greg F. X. Daly, Sheriff Jim Murphy, Lt. Colonel Tim Reagan, Fr. Chuck Barthel (Pastor of St. Stephen Protomartyr Catholic Church), Fr. Richard Quirk (Associate Full Pastor at the Old Cathedral), former STLFD chief (and nearby neighbor!) Sherman George, Joan Smith (a stalwart community activist and member of Corinthian Baptist Church), former St. Louis Mayor Jim Conway, KMOX's Charles Brennan MC'ed, and there were many others I knew from my parish and the neighborhood.
The evening's program had thoughtful touches throughout. One of the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet played a lovely harp during cocktail hour. A good number of the Sisters -- probably close to 50 -- were in attendance, many of whom lent their luminous voices to a musical program during dinner. The first selection the Sisters sang was "How Can I Keep From Singing" and they were simply beaming with pride for their friend -- I think this verse of the song sums up Sr. Marie Charles' leadership:
No storm can shake my inmost calm,Also included in the evening were a previously recorded interview of Sr. Marie Charles recalling the history of the organization and a number of tributes to Sr. Marie Charles by people with whom she has worked over the years. Gov. Blunt sent a letter of recognition, which Rep. Villa read aloud, Mayor Slay recognized November 8 as Sr. Marie Charles Buford Day in the city of St. Louis, and Alderman Matt Villa presented her with a proclamation from the Board of Alderman commending her years of service to the city.
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
One of the most poignant recollections of the evening was recounted by Fr. Quirk, who said that Sr. Marie Charles once told her that community rejuvenation starts by picking up just one piece of broken glass at a time -- just one. After a while, you have picked up enough pieces to put together a window that people can look through -- a window to a better future. Sr. Marie Charles has put together a lot of broken pieces of glass in Carondelet over the years!
Having engaged myself in community volunteerism now and then, I have a great deal of respect for someone who dedicates their life's work to a community like Sr. Marie Charles has. It is not easy to maintain one's focus, enthusiasm, and drive in the face of many obstacles. Sr. Marie Charles has shown us all how it's done.
God's blessings on you Sr. Marie Charles in your retirement and thank you for your years of hard work, loyalty, and service to our neighborhood.