CHARLESTON — Sister deNeri Faase, of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, will celebrate her 100th birthday Jan. 25.
Her one century of life will be honored in quiet fashion, first by her community on Jan. 26 and then with her family in private festivities on Jan. 27.
Sister deNeri retired in 1981 and has lived at the motherhouse since 1989. Time may have diminished some things, but Sister deNeri’s intellect and sense of humor are as bright as ever.
She still likes to crochet and work on crossword puzzles, although she laughs and says all the sisters do that. She also likes to talk, and during a recent interview with The Miscellany, she told stories from her younger life, before she entered the convent.
That was an important time for Sister deNeri because it illustrated how someone can receive a call from God when they least expect it.
Religion, she said, is in her blood.
Her father, the late Albert Anthony Faase, was from the Netherlands and her late mother, Elizabeth Teresa Lennon, was from Ireland. Both sides of the family have a long list of women who joined religious orders.
“I have quite a background in religion,” she said. “That’s where my vocation came from. God decided he’d put one more of us in there,” she added with a chuckle.
Although for the longest time, she didn’t know God was calling her.
Sister deNeri said she grew up Catholic. Her family of three sisters and two brothers went to Mass every day and attended school taught by the Dominican Sisters.
Born in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx in New York, she remembers her family being extremely poor, especially after her father passed away. Her mother had to raise six children on her own.
Everybody was expected to go to school or work. Sister deNeri tried college after graduating from high school, but did not enjoy it.
“The only class I liked was gym,” she said with her trademark chuckle.
So she asked the neighborhood priest if he knew of any work available and he sent her to a school run by the Sisters of Charity, the same order that her great aunts had joined.
Sister deNeri, born Elizabeth Gertrude Faase, was hired to run the music program. She later taught second-grade.
Still, she did not hear the call.
Two more teaching positions followed at two other Catholic schools where she was constantly surrounded by religious brothers and sisters.
In the meantime, her brother Albert discovered his vocation and entered the priesthood. During a trip to visit him at The Oratory in Rock Hill, young Elizabeth found her own religious path, though at the time she did not know it.
When she returned home and started to tell her family about how their brother was doing the words, “I’m joining the convent,” tumbled from her mouth.
“God spoke through me,” Sister deNeri said. “That was my first conscious thought of being a sister. That is vocation.”
She entered the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy in 1936 and made her first profession in 1939. Father Albert Faase was ordained to the priesthood in 1937.
Sister deNeri said she chose her name in honor of The Oratory founder St. Philip Neri. It reminds her of her brother, Father Faase who died in 1997, and that fateful trip.
As a religious, Sister deNeri spent the rest of her working life in education. She received a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in New York and a master’s degree in library science from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
It was quite a change from the girl who, by her own admission, did not take to college at first and never thought about being a sister.
She taught at Bishop England High School and St. Angela Academy in Aiken, where she also served as principal and librarian.
She left there to live in Sumter and taught adult education classes at night and tutored in the literacy program. She continued her work as a literacy tutor in Charleston while she was a resident of May Forest, the motherhouse.
Sister deNeri laughs when she is asked what she wants to do now and says she just wants God’s grace to let her walk around.
“I pray all the time. Pray night and day,” she said.
One of her most repeated prayers is for people to convert to Catholicism and turn away from all the “open book” religions.