On May 25, 2023, the Clear Creek community lost a true daughter of the Church. Maria Cristina Bernardelli Borges was born in New York City to Brazilian parents at the close of the 1950s, the last sane decade in recent American history. I would like to say that we were the best of friends, but perhaps we were too alike, having been born on the same day in the same year. We both self-published books about religious life that took us over a decade to finish. We both aspired to religious life, but were hindered in doing so by family obligations. Most importantly, we were both blessed to be Benedictine oblates of Clear Creek Abbey.
I met Cristina when she moved with her mother, Zelia, to Oklahoma in 2015 from Chicago, where she had been working for the Institute of Christ the King. I liked her immediately and hoped we would become good friends. Apparently she had acquired a choice piece of land near the Abbey gate, because my first memory of Cristina is her telling us the story of how after walking the property she planned to build a house on, she ended up totally covered with ticks! She seemed unfazed, as though it were all just part of the penitential life of Clear Creek, an opportunity to offer sacrifice to the Lord for the rare privilege of living so close to the Abbey.
Shortly thereafter, I was surprised to learn that she had translated a scholarly work on Madame Cecile Bruyere, the first Abbess of Solesmes, from the French. Cristina was talented in multifaceted ways, but she wasn't ostentatious about it. One had to get to know her to learn of these gifts, because she never talked about herself (a virtue I have yet to acquire).
Cristina's charming book for children on religious orders, Of Bells and Cells, complemented by the winsome, inspiring illustrations of Michaela Harrison, happily filled the gaping void in Catholic vocational literature for that age group. I highly recommend it for all Catholic homes with young (and not so young) children.
Cristina worked for the Catholic media powerhouse, EWTN, for many years, mostly behind the scenes, assisting with Portuguese translations from broadcasts from Fatima and helping to establish EWTN's European affiliates. So naturally, when Of Bells and Cells came out, she was interviewed by Doug Keck on EWTN's "Bookmark." This is a very happy thing for those of us who sorely miss her presence, because we can still see and hear her with the simple click of a button. (And you can, too.)
Cristina's intelligence was surpassed only by her generosity. When I was seeking reviews for my novel a couple of years ago, I asked Cristina if she would provide one, and she graciously agreed. I ended up getting much more than I had asked for. In the novel, I had included in Spanish dialogue certain words that I knew phonetically, but that I did not know how to spell. Her fluent knowledge of Spanish enabled her to spot several mistakes I had made just using an online translator, and others besides. If it weren't for her diligence and generosity, my novel would have contained numerous embarrassing errors.
In recent years, Cristina devoted herself tirelessly to caring for her frail, elderly mother. When she was diagnosed with cancer last year, she fought it back, but as often happens, the cancer returned. Never once did I hear her complain.
We had hoped and prayed to keep Cristina with us many more years, but it seems that Our Lord had other plans. He wanted this sweet, humble, and generous soul all for Himself.
Dearest Cristina, my Benedictine sister, pray for us.
A Cautionary Tale
NB: I wrote this in 2022 thinking I would start a separate webpage for book reviews. Yeah, right.
It took me several months to finish this short book by Aram Saroyan, the son of the famous writer William Saroyan. A personal journal kept over the course of the final three weeks of his father's life, Last Rites overflows with painful memories like a tidal wave of self-analytic emotion, regret, and barely suppressed rage. Incredibly, Aram's dysfunctional (to my way of thinking) persistence in trying to be near his abusive father in his last days pays off. Despite the title, there are no sacramental rites performed, which was a disappointment. But a cautionary tale for anyone who tends to idolize talent, which I think we all do to some extent. A must-read for students of Saroyan, if only as a means of paying one's respects to this larger-than-life Armenian-American hero.
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If I have erred in any statement, whether directly or by implication, in any matter pertaining to faith or morals, I humbly invite fraternal correction.