Wednesday, May 2, 2012

She took care of the poor and youth

Eulogy of my Aunt Sr Pacelli Netto delivered by Sr Columba Byrne at the funeral on Friday, April 13, at St Theresa’s Church, Woodbrook

On January 18, 2012, as Pacelli and I walked out to 6.30 a.m. Mass, Pacelli turned to me and said, “Columba, I want you, to do my eulogy”. With the shock of the moment, I spluttered, “Yes, if you will do mine”. This was shortly after hearing that her cancer was at stage 4. She was aware that, barring a miracle, death was inevitable.

Born on July 19, 1935, in St Paul’s Street, Port of Spain, Grace Netto was the fifth child of Venus and Manuel Netto. She attended the Presbyterian Primary School in Tacarigua and transferred to St Theresa’s, Woodbrook, where she first came in contact with the Holy Faith Sisters. After leaving school, she taught at Providence and St Theresa’s, for three years. In 1958 she entered the Holy Faith Congregation in Ireland. After her Final Profession, she returned to Trinidad

Pacelli the Teacher

In Trinidad, Pacelli attended the Catholic Women’s Training College and spent all of her Teaching Career, apart from two years in Matelot Community School, at St Brigid’s, Siparia. An excellent teacher, she believed in an all-rounded education. She brought many honours to the school. Her passion for gardening won for the school the President’s Shield. Due to her class’ excellent performance at a science exhibition, she was chosen by Schools’ Supervisors to visit schools in the St Patrick’s Division to share her teaching strategies with other colleagues. Her vision of an all-rounded education included sport. If she could not train the children herself, she had the knack of getting the right person to do it. She was also well known for her skills in craft and needlework, and due to her teaching, many of her students are now professional seamstresses.

The most important aspect of this all-rounded education was the children’s formation in Religious Education. Not only did she teach in school, but she extended her teaching to include the Liturgy in La Divina Pastora. With her students, some of whom later became musicians and choir leaders, she was involved in the formation of the Sunday morning parish choir.

For many years, Pacelli served in many and varied ministries in the parish, for example, as Eucharistic Minister, catechist, Parish Council member, visiting the sick, fund-raising etc.

Commitment to the Poor

Over the years, she came to know, personally, the most disadvantaged families in the area. Her unwavering commitment to the less well-off was seen in her determination to give each child equal opportunity in education. To this end she provided uniforms, school bags and school books and copy books, all of which she covered meticulously, with each child’s name on his/her books. I’m sure most of us would find more exciting ways of spending the month of August than by covering a mountain of books.

The total giving of self can be seen in her complete dedication to “Little Faith”. Who is Little Faith, you may ask? Faith is a little girl who has a debilitating illness called Osteo Genesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease). Faith is now eight years old. For the past six years, due to Pacelli’s one-to-one tuition, from 7.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. daily, Faith can read, write, do math, enjoy art, and has mastered basic computer skills. Even though Faith will never walk, it was Pacelli’s dream that Faith would be gainfully employed some day. Foreseeing the need for on-going financial support for her, she set up a fund for Faith. This fund will help her educationally, socially and personally.

Pacelli also had a particular concern for youth. She listened to them, counselled them and gave financial assistance to help them to complete their education in, for example, SERVOL or other Skills’ Programmes. She also provided needy families with hampers every month. She also helped them to start their own market gardens. She even had houses built for the homeless.

2011 was Pacelli’s Golden Jubilee Year, a time when most people are offered something special, such as a return trip to Ireland, to celebrate this momentous occasion with other Sisters who were professed with her. Pacelli, however, turned down this offer and said she would accept the value of the trip so that she could do something with it, for the poor. Joyce Rupp, quoting Mary Joe Meadows, says that compassion is “the quivering of the heart in response to another’s suffering” and “compassionate beings… cannot bear to see suffering and remain unengaged”. This was our Pacelli.

Pacelli the Holy Faith Sister

Pacelli embodied and lived out the Holy Faith charism of faith, charity, humility and simplicity. She shunned the spotlight. What the late Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid said in his day: “the Holy Faith Sisters are publicity-shunning daughters of Margaret Aylward”, could be applied to Pacelli in another country, Trinidad, in another time.

She had a deep devotion to prayer and to the Blessed Eucharist and lived out this spirituality in her everyday life.

She loved her Holy Faith Congregation. Weeks before she died she said, “I’d love to go back to the Motherhouse in Glasnevin for one more visit.” As a member of the Trinidad Region, she was considered to be a wisdom figure, open-minded and fair. At meetings, she would ponder before speaking. Her wise, but profound, simply expressed opinions served the Region well in times of discernment.

Pacelli was very attached to her family. Their visits gave her great joy. She loved to be involved with the whole family: nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews, and, of course, her own siblings. She appreciated very much Bella’s and other family members’ efforts to travel to Siparia to see her during her illness. On a recent visit, I asked her nieces what memories they had of Aunty Grace from their childhood. Without hesitation, they said “her fudge”. Pacelli’s fudge was famous in Trinidad and in Ireland, where children fondly referred to her as “Sister Fudge”. Boxing Day lunch in Tacarigua with Hilda and Angie were memorable times too. Other memories were of retreats in Tobago and Salybia. These were special times of fun and laughter, music and song. Aunty Grace wastheir nun. They were proud of her and admired her commitment.

We extend our deepest sympathy to Bella, Michael, Theresa and all the family on your great loss.


Her natural, patient disposition helped her to be at peace during the long days of her illness. With Rosary wrapped around her wrist, she was clearly in touch with her God. She had a deep devotion to the Passion of Christ and to the Mercy of Christ. It was obvious that she was suffering but bore her suffering with patience. She was a gentle, grateful patient, and I know she would like me to thank Archbishop Joseph Harris, Fathers Martin and Alex, her devoted care-givers and all those who prayed and ministered to her and the community, during her illness.


Pacelli had a sense of humour and was able to laugh at her own foibles. Many an evening around the supper table, she would recall little incidents. One of these incidents she loved to relate was about the new car. Pacelli loved this car, a model that was supplied with only one key. People kept asking her how the new car was going. Her replies went like this: “I love the new car”, “It runs smoothly, parks easily and is easy on gas”. But when asked if she had driven very far yet, with a smile, and that particular look in her eye, she replied, “No, you see, I’ve lost the one and only key!!” Pacelli was notorious for losing keys!

Pacelli had no idea of time so, Emerentia and myself, who have lived happily with Pacelli for the past 34 years, hit on a strategy to cope with this idiosyncrasy. Whenever we had to travel to the airport or to meetings we told her that we would be leaving 30 minutes before we needed to leave. It always worked. Pacelli would arrive half an hour after the appointed time and all would be well.

Now, Pacelli, you don’t have to be concerned about keys or time in that timeless place, Eternity, where St Peter holds the keys, and where Jesus says, “Welcome, Pacelli, caring and compassionate Sister.”

Sr Pacelli Grace Netto, was the first Holy Faith sister to die in Trinidad, she was also the first Trinidadian Holy Faith sister to die.

No comments: