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Prayer answered via a golf cart

Elderly, frail nuns can once again enjoy the order's grounds.

At the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament campus in Bensalem, Sister Juliana helps Sister Therese board the new golf cart.
At the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament campus in Bensalem, Sister Juliana helps Sister Therese board the new golf cart.Read more

Three years ago, Cass Forkin, who is in the job of granting "twilight wishes" to frail elderly people, visited the home of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem.

About 90 nuns live there, more than half of them retired, some extremely old and frail and living in the infirmary. In their walkers and wheelchairs, they could no longer see the beautiful grounds, the flowering rhododendrons.

The nuns really wanted a golf cart, to transport their frailest around the campus, but asking for one was deemed, well, inappropriate.

"They didn't want to seem greedy," said Marie Bradley, activities director at the infirmary, St. Michael Hall. "They wanted to be unselfish."

Two years went by, and a new administrator was named for the 57-acre campus founded by Mother Katharine Drexel. This was Sister Lorraine, 72, who has a bad back and doesn't get around so well.

She thought the golf cart was a terrific idea and sent a letter to Forkin, who founded and runs the Twilight Wish Foundation in Bucks County, seeking "a four-seat golf cart for 56 retired nuns."

Forkin tries to fulfill all sorts of requests from older people, but this one was surprisingly difficult. Most country clubs lease their carts and need to return them.

Her brother knew a man in Philadelphia who was head of the Mayfair Civic Association and known as a can-do guy. Turns out that guy, Scott Cummings, knew a guy in the Poconos who lost 400 pounds after having his stomach stapled and no longer needed his golf cart to get around.

So Cummings bought the cart for $500 out of his own pocket, rented a trailer and drove to the Poconos in February, right after the huge snowfall.

The man with the stapled stomach hadn't shoveled or plowed his driveway, which was under 18 inches of snow.

"I looked up, and I said, 'Well, sisters, if you want the golf cart, I'm going to need a little prayer,' " Cummings recalled. "I looked up the street - and here comes a giant plow."

Cummings polished the cart, put air in the tires. He and his wife, Vicki, clipped a guardian angel to the sun visor, which all the nuns thought most appropriate because Mother Katharine Drexel's favorite expression was "Holy Angels."

The couple also put a picture of Pope John Paul II on the steering column - covering the operating instructions, although Sister Lorraine insisted yesterday that she had read them carefully. Cummings also taped a bumper sticker to the front: Don't let this car fool you, my treasure is in heaven.

The sisters were all lined up Saturday when he arrived.

"I pulled up, and I never saw so many women, so many Catholic nuns, happy to see me," said Cummings, who went to St. Matthew's parish school and Father Judge High. "I was a Catholic boy, used to getting my knuckles rapped with a ruler. Their faces were so excited. I actually started crying. I lost it."

The nuns have spent the weekend and every day since driving around the campus. They have a little stool to help the weakest get on board.

"The chief of maintenance is getting seat belts for the back," Sister Lorraine said. "I want to make sure they're safely on and can't fall out."

The cart can hit a top speed of 15 m.p.h., according to the manufacturer, but nuns tend to be conservative drivers.

"This is where we all started," said Sister Loretta, vice president of the order. Many of the older nuns joined and trained here more than 60 years ago. Most were teachers and went on to poor communities and reservations all over the country. Back at their order's home, many are too frail to see the buildings and grounds they strolled long ago.

"Now, they can go anywhere they want to go - with an approved driver," Sister Loretta said. "It's opening up the world to them."

Sister Claire, for instance, went down to the cemetery on Saturday to see the grave where her natural sister was buried. She hadn't been able to get there since her sister died.

Yesterday, Sister Lorraine was giving several nuns rides.

"You'd better hang on," she said to Sister Therese, in the front passenger seat, her walker folded in her lap.

"Don't worry about me," Sister Therese replied. "Watch out for the tree."

Sister Lorraine was driving across the grass, heading toward the cemetery, when she stopped the cart at a four-inch drainage ditch. She decided it was too perilous to cross.

"This will be my first time in reverse," she said, switching gears. "Let's go. . . . That-a girl."

Sister Anne Regina, who is in her 80s, got her first ride yesterday and took great joy seeing spring in all its glory.

"To think people thought of us, to do something like this for us, especially the older sisters," she said. "You just don't know what that means."

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