~ A compassionate heartbeat in the world ~

Sr Elena Pettenuzzo

Sr ElenaMy father was Italian, my mother French. Both came to England during the first world war. They met through the families for whom they worked. Neither of them could speak English or the other language – love was the language they spoke and this was the basis of our whole family life – and for which I still constantly give thanks to God.They were married in 1920 and my two brothers, my sister and I were born between the years 1921-1930. By this time we were all speaking English – my father had also acquired fluent French. Because we had no relatives whatsoever in this country, we were a very close knit family. We did have holidays in France and Italy to meet various relatives but only for short periods. Although not a very religious family – just Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Sundays, and confession once a week, no Benediction or grace before and after meals, somehow God and faith were part and parcel of our lives. To this day, I believe this to be because of the love our parents had for each other and for us.

Evacuation in 1939 and the war thoroughly disrupted our lives. My sister and I were evacuated and finally ended up in South Wales. It was here that the realisation dawned upon me that there were other good people besides Catholics who would go to Heaven! It was also in South Wales when I was about fifteen that I started going to daily Mass – and to this day I still don’t know what started me doing this.

December 1942 we returned to London and I started work in January 1943 with a firm of chartered accountants, my ambition was to be a chartered accountant. In January 1948 my sister, the youngest of the family left home to become a Daughter of the Cross. This was the biggest wrench of my life – we had never been separated before except for the odd week or so. I remember very clearly the night she had gone, 6th January, having a good cry and telling God that, though I did not want to be a nun, I did want to be a saint!! In September 1948 my mother who had been suffering ill health, was taken worse and I had to leave work to look after her. For me this was a disaster and for three days I stopped going to Mass – if God had taken from me what I loved doing, then I would not do anything for Him! After three days I came to my senses and realised how stupid I was. So I returned to daily Mass and enjoyed my time at home caring for my mother until she died suddenly on the 21st February 1949.

From being a small child, I had always been sorry that I was not a boy so that I could be an altar server and then become a priest. As I grew older I used to pray almost daily that one day I would marry a ‘good Catholic’ and have a son who would become a priest. Not long before my mother died she said to me one day “When you are a Daughter of the Cross....” I said to her “Don’t be silly you know I want to get married” A month later, she died.

About a month later one Sunday evening my father and I were in the Church club room where the weekly draw was being held. A friend of mine came and said to me, “Did you know that Felicity is entering” As she said this I heard a voice as clearly as anything inside me saying, “Why can’t you enter?” At the same moment I was filled with such a tremendous feeling of joy which I thought then (and ever since) that it was like falling head over heels in love. I went home that evening , upside down with joy – I hardly knew what I was doing – nearly pouring milk into the teapot etc! I thought I would feel differently the next day, but I still felt the same and still do. I waited another sixteen months just to make sure and for the sake of my father who was being left all on his own. I then entered the convent in 1950 and became a Daughter of the Cross. I have been in the religious life for over sixty years, it has not become stale or dull and I still feel as though I am only just beginning.