At Girard House, if you take the back stairs (the “servant stairs,” in the old days) from the kitchen to the second floor, you find yourself in a small alcove with chairs in a half-circle around an altar: the Chapel. You cannot rush through this quiet room: pause, bow to the tabernacle, and savor the peace. I always find myself thinking, “I’ll just stay here, please,” and I have to summon the strength of will to move on to the next room.
Across from the altar is a dollhouse. It is lovely, with elaborate furnishings and details like books on a table and a basket of toiletries at the foot of a bed. On the roof is a shiny plaque that reads, “In Loving Memory of Kerry: January 10, 1971 – November 17, 2012.”
Why is there a dollhouse in the Sisters’ Chapel?
Meet Priscilla, the dollhouse creator and a member of From Death to Life, an organization that seeks healing for parents of victims and perpetrators of gun violence. From Death to Life meets regularly at St. Jane House, the retreat home associated with the Visitation Monastery. That is how Priscilla came to know the Visitation Sisters. After the loss of her son, Priscilla found a beautiful expression of her mourning: a dollhouse model of the Sisters’ home. She created the dollhouse with her own hands and imagination, channeling the spirit of the monastery.
On the ground floor, the home features a kitchen and chapel, the two rooms we are most familiar with at Fremont House. Upstairs is the Sisters’ living area, a bathroom and bedroom, which remind me of St. Jane’s quote as she walked into her first monastery: “This is the place of delight and rest.” On the bedroom wall is Brother Mickey McGrath’s famous painting The Windsock Visitation, whose original version hangs in the living room of Girard House. My favorite part is on the chapel wall: a surreal photo of the Visitation Sisters themselves.
I reach out with prayers for Priscilla, her son, and all the members of From Death to Life. I cherish the dollhouse as a reminder of the gentle peace and beauty that the Sisters offer to neighbors in their home.