The Sixties were tumultuous years for a young black woman in college. There was the Black Power movement, Vietnam War protests, and partying like there was no tomorrow.

And Aquilla Peterson was in the midst of it all.

"Campus life was in constant chaos," she wrote about her life at Penn State. "My own life mirrored this turmoil.

"Toward graduation and after, I became aware of a vast emptiness in my life, a futile quest for happiness without purpose."

Out of this dark night of the soul Aquilla eventually emerged into the light and found her true vocation - helping others, counseling the desperate and feeding the hungry.

She heeded the words of St. Teresa of Avila: "God has no hands but ours."

Sister Aquilla Peterson, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus who traveled the world bringing surcease to the needy, died of cancer Tuesday at the age of 61.

Aquilla had an irrepressible sense of humor. Even in the hospital in her final days, her spirit never faded and her easy laugh never left her.

"The nuns would gather around her and they'd be laughing," said her brother, Richard Peterson. "I was depressed. I was ready to run. But she kept my spirits up. The nuns told her she was about to take a journey to meet God."

Aquilla Peterson was born in Philadelphia to Julian and Frances Peterson. She attended St. Elizabeth Parochial School and graduated from Germantown High School.

"When I graduated from high school and went off to Penn State, any dreams or aspirations I had changed radically," she wrote.

"In 1986, when my mother succumbed to cancer, any hope I had seemed to die with her. My life was disordered, and externally, the habits I had developed eventually brought me to a point of crises in which I had no choice but to cry out to God.

"It was at this bottom, this dark place, that I was able to experience a personal revelation of God and self."

Aquilla enrolled at Bryn Mawr College and attained a master's degree in social work.

As a social worker, she dealt with the mentally ill, the drug-addicted and others afflicted with the variety of human ills.

She encountered the Sisters of the Holy Child at Bryn Mawr and at a life-awareness weekend sponsored by the Philadelphia Archdiocese at Rosemont College in 1997.

She was impressed by their commitment to their mission, and eventually decided that she would become a nun. Already a world traveler, she was sent by the order to the Dominican Republic, Africa, Haiti, Chile and other exotic lands to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of the natives.

"I would get postcards from all over the world," her brother said. "She had an adventurous spirit, a fighting spirit. She was a fighter in whatever challenges she took on."

"She overcame a lot," said Jean Waites-Howard, evangelist and social worker who knew Aquilla at Penn State. "Then she made a commitment. She had a wonderful sense of humor."

Besides her brother, she is survived by a sister, Faith Peterson.

Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. Tuesday at New Sharon Chapel at the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, 1341 Montgomery Ave., Rosemont.

Friends may call at 4 p.m. Monday. A wake will begin at 6 p.m. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.