Meet Sister Annella Zervas, born in Moorhead, Minnesota. The only individual of anyone in Minnesota with the title, Servant of God, Sister Annella lived a life of hardship and suffering. From a secular perspective, there was no “grand accomplishments” or anything like that. But no one can put a value on the eternal treasures and example her life reaped. That a human being could go through the excruciating pain and trials she did- and yet come out with a completely unbroken spirit and unwavering faith in God – is nothing short of supernatural.
Today, we live in such a throw-away and pity-party culture that any degree of suffering and hardship is frowned upon and perhaps even an excuse to end it all. But what Sister Annella showed with her life and her example, that even suffering and hardship can be offered up for the greater good and become an incredible prayer for God.
In this booklet below, you’ll also learn the story of Patrick Norton, who as a young boy in Bombay, India, was rescued by Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity and how Sister Annella appeared to him roughly 100 years following her death.
Below the PDF file, is the whole booklet typed out if you find the PDF difficult to read.
This book is in honor of
Our Lady of Guadalupe and The Divine Mercy
SISTER M. ANNELLA ZERVAS, O.S.B.
of the Convent of St. Benedict
St. Joseph, Minnesota
Servant of God
April 7th, 1900 – August 14th, 1926
Professed Date: July 1922
TOUCHED BY TWO SAINTS
Walking quickly down a crowded dusty street in India, it’s 1962, a young mother quickly puts a small package by the side of the road and walks on. No one sees except a Heart above filled with love for the beautiful baby boy He has created. A woman in her early 50’s walks by and notices that moving, crying package and, with a heart filled with love, rescues him from the roadside and takes him home where she and her Sisters will care for him. She has done this many times before and will continue this, her mission, for the rest of her life. The boy is Patrick Norton.
Nine years ago, a man is on a ladder painting a light pole in front of the Grotto of the Blessed Virgin in St. Joseph, MN. He feels the presence of Our Blessed Mother and wonders what she thinks of the job he is doing. Within moments, a young woman appears dressed in an old-style Benedictine habit. She says that he’s “doing just fine” and vanishes after a few words. The man is Patrick Norton.
Patrick’s story really goes back almost 100 years, where, on two different continents, two teenage girls just ten years apart, are deeply moved by the Holy Spirit to dedicate themselves to lives of serving others in religious orders. One, Anna, born in the Red River Valley in the United States and the other Agnes in the Vardar River Valley in Macedonia over 5000 miles away. What could they possibly have in common except for their deep love of God and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary? Each one would have a radical impact on the life of an infant boy left on the side of the road, perhaps to die, in the poverty-stricken Byculla district of Bombay in 1962. The ways of God are so mysterious to us but always worked out with unbelievable meticulous precision and timing.
The world now knows Agnes as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta but it did not know her in 1950 as she began her order of the Sisters of Charity serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Only God could know then as He blessed their work how the order would grow with almost astonishing speed. By 1962 they had spread all over India, even to the west coast opposite Calcutta. Patrick believes that it was Mother Theresa herself who rescued him as an infant boy from almost certain death on that roadside in Byculla and gave him a home, a name, and a life. The Sisters named him Patrick, nurtured him till the age of 7, when he was put in “Our Lady’s Home”, a Catholic orphanage dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. It was here that Patrick fell in love with Our Blessed Mother Mary and took her to be his own Mother, the only mother he ever knew.
Patrick recalls life in the orphanage being one of the 250 boys, sleeping on the floor, playing in
the streets, scrounging in the dumpsters for broken toys. Just enough, never too much of anything. One day he found a paper scrap in the garbage which said “USA”. Asking a priest what that was, “You’ll never go there” was the response. Patrick prayed that he would go there someday.
Only God could know that Pope Paul VI’s visit to that orphanage would bring it to the world’s attention and to the heart of Judge John Henry Norton in Connecticut. He adopted Patrick, then 15, and Martin and raised them with his family. What a change, from never having a bed to his own room in a mansion, from barely enough to eat to plenty, from being just another boy to being “son” and brother. How he loved his family.
Eight years later his father died. Patrick was lost. His mother suggested a trip to Medjugorje. There,
less than 400 miles from Mother Teresa’s birthplace, he met Sandy, the woman he would marry who lived near the Red River Valley in Minnesota. There in St. Joseph, MN. Patrick started a business as a house painter and with his constant companion and soulmate, Sandy, raised their family.
One day, 9 years ago, Patrick was painting a light pole near the Grotto of Our Blessed Mother at St. Benedict’s Convent. He prayed asking the Blessed Mother if she liked the job he was doing. Suddenly a nun appeared in the old habit and told him indeed he was doing a good job. After exchanging a few words, he looked back and she was gone. Later he discovered that she was Anna, a very Holy nun named Sr. Annella Zervas who suffered greatly from an incurable disease till she died in 1926. Many miracles had been attributed to her intercession. Ultimately, her family asked
Patrick to promote her canonization. He agreed, and with the Bishop’s permission, travels and tells of his experiences. He traveled to Rome for the Canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta the Saint who saved his life. While there he was able to get Sr. Annella’s story to those close to Pope Francis.
Nevertiring, always joyful & hopeful, giving out over 5 million Miraculous Medals and thousands of Rosaries, Patrick Norton, that orphan boy, has told his story while traveling extensively throughout Minnesota. In over 63 presentations and in many magazine and newspaper articles, Patrick has inspired 1000’s of hearts with his life and the lives of those two amazing women of God, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and hopefully someday St. Annella Zervas OSB, the “Uncanonized Saint of Minnesota”.
At St. Mother Teresa’s canonization in 2016, Patrick gazed at the huge painting of her and prayed…
Mother Theresa… I was hungry and you gave me to eat.
Mother… I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.
Mother… I was abandoned and you picked me up
And held me in your arms
And played with my little fingers and toes. You lived the gospel very well.
May we all live the gospel as you did.
St. Mother Teresa. Pray for us.
PATRICK’S MOTTO: Just Live Your Catholic Faith
- By attending mass every Sunday and as often as possible during the week as well.
- By praying the rosary and Devine Chaplet daily and meditating on the gospel.
- By going to confession at least once a month.
- Spend one hour of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament once a week.
- Forgive and love one another often as Jesus has forgiven us.
You may contact Patrick Norton at 320-363-8607 or email him at email@example.com
An Apostle of Suffering in Our Day:
Sister M. Annella, O.S.B.
A Life Sketch
REV. JOSEPH KREUTER, 0. S. B.
Reprint from The Grail
ABBEY PRESS, Saint Meinrad, Indiana
ALCUINUS, 0. S. B.
Abbas S. Joannis Bapt.
Sept 6, 1929
In conformity with the decree of Pope Urban VIII and the definitions of other Popes, the author hereby declares that the statements contained in this Life-Sketch are based solely on human authority for their trustworthiness.
In the Book of Wisdom we read that “venerable old age is not that of a long time, nor counted by the number of years.” The truth of this saying of Scripture seems to have been verified in no small measure in the life of. Sister M. Annella Zervas, O. S. B., the span of whose earthly existence numbered only one score years and six, eleven of which she spent in the special service of her Divine Master. Like the “passion flower,” which grows to maturity and bursts into full bloom in the warm rays of the glad sunshine, Sister Annella developed under the benign influence of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, whose spiritual daughter she was. In her longing for conformity with the Divine Model, she did not hesitate to carry out the injunction of the Savior (Luke 9 :23) : “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
As numerous requests have been made for the edifying account of the sufferings and death of Sister Annella, the following sketch, which appeared originally in “The Grail,” (July, 1928), it is now reprinted in pamphlet form. May this brief narrative of a chosen soul be a source of edification to all who read it, and may the noble example of a fellow mortal encourage them likewise to take up their cross each day, and spur them on to bear patiently and with resignation to the holy will of God the sufferings, adversities; and other crosses that may fall to their lot.
FEAST OF THE PURIFICATION, 1931.
St. Meinrad, Indiana.
BENEDICT BROWN, 0. S. B.
Editor of The Grail.
An Apostle of Suffering in Our Day
“YES, Lord, send me more pain, but give me strength to bear it,” is the prayer that was repeatedly uttered by Sister Annella in the midst of excruciating pains of body and anguish of soul which lasted almost continually for two long years. Perfectly resigned to God’s Holy Will, the sufferer lay on her bed of agony, serene of mind, frequently even chanting hymns in praise of God. Indeed, it required superhuman strength to bear the tortures of a most loathsome disease, which made her body a living prey to corruption, to keep cheerful and clear in mind under the most severe mental strain. Sister Annella may justly be called on apostle of suffering. An account of her marvelous patience and abandonment to God’s Holy Will must prove a source of inspiration and consolation to all that tread life’s narrow path. Here was a soul that knew what it meant to love the Cross not only the image of the . Crucified, but the cross of helpless confinement to a bed of pain. Yes, there are still souls left, even in our age of ease and pleasure-seeking, that are willing to carry their cross patiently, yes, cheerfully, no matter how heavy it may be. Sister Annella was one of these.
Her favorite poem, “Rabboni,” reflects the sublime sentiments of her soul:
When I am dying,
How glad I shall be
That the lamp of my life
Has been burned out for Thee;
That sorrow has darkened
The pathway I trod;
That thorns, not roses,
Were strewn o’er the sod;
That anguish of spirit
Full often was mine,
Since anguish of spirit
So often was Thine,
My cherished Rabboni!
How glad I shall be
To die with the hope of a welcome from Thee.
Sister M. Annella Zervas, 0. S. B., was born at Moorhead, Minnesota, April 7, 1900. The excellent training she received from her parents engendered in her tender heart a deep faith and loving trust in God. These virtues proved the mainstay in her agonizing trials and tribulations in later years. Early in life, Anna, this was her baptismal name, showed talent and love for music, which she assiduously set about to cultivate.
In her prayers, she was very regular and devout. Obedience, cheerfulness, and kindness seemed to be natural to her. Ever ready to serve others, she would gladly bring sacrifices for them. In her dress she was plain and modest. At school her behavior and diligence were exemplary.
When the time for her first Holy Communion approached, she took great pains in preparing her soul for it. It was, indeed, a day of intense interior happiness for her. At first, she would receive as often as her confessor permitted; later on, she communicated daily.
On leaving the parochial school of her home town, Anna attended Sacred Heart Academy at Fargo, N. Dak. During this period she daily walked a mile from her home to attend Holy Mass at the Cathedral of Fargo and to receive Holy Communion. Then she would partake of a frugal lunch in the vestibule of the church and hurry to school a distance of one mile. Throughout her life she entertained a special devotion to her Eucharistic Lord and Master.
At the age of fifteen, Anna expressed a strong desire to consecrate her life to God in religion. With the consent and blessing of her spiritual director, P. Alfred, 0. S. B., and her parents, she entered the convent of the Benedictine Sisters at St. Joseph, Minnesota., in August 1915. Anna had always loved her parents, brothers, and sisters very dearly; yet, she brought the sacrifice cheerfully. The words of St. Paul: “What shall separate me from the love of Christ?” etc., were her guiding star in leaving all for Christ’s sake. Severe interior trials had preceded her final decision to consecrate herself unreservedly to God. In a little poem composed by her at this time, entitled : “Christ’s Ways of Love,” she refers to these trials and thanks the Lord for them.
As an aspirant in the convent, she at once entered whole-heartedly into the spirit of her vocation. The letters which she wrote to her parents reflect the happiness that was hers in the cloister. Repeatedly she expresses her heartfelt thanks to them for permitting her to follow her sublime calling, adding that, if many young people in the world would know of the happiness of the religious life, they would hasten to seek admission to the cloister.
God had many trials in store for this generous soul. In spite of her happiness she began to be harassed by homesickness, which at times grew so strong that she felt tempted to leave the convent. Fervent prayers and will power aided her in remaining faithful to her vocation. Whenever she was home during vacation she felt irresistibly drawn back to the convent.
About this time a new suffering made its appearance. It proved the forerunner of her later inexplicable ailment. A burning pain, which developed in the stomach, remained with her to the end of her life. Medical examinations failed to discover a reason for it.
The aspirant made rapid progress in the spiritual life. She profited greatly by the annual retreats. The resolutions which she noted down during the spiritual exercises give ample evidence of this. One of these resolutions reads : “With the grace of God I am determined to become a saint!” We find it repeated in slightly different words in her diary.
On June 17, 1918, Anna received the Benedictine habit together with the name of Sister Mary Annella. It was a day of great rejoicing of soul for the novice and closer union with her God. The letters which she wrote to her parents during the novitiate are replete with allusions to her spiritual progress and interior happiness.
On July 11, 1919, Sister Annella was admitted to simple profession. In the fall of that year she was appointed music teacher and organist of St. Mary’s Parish, Bismarck, N. D. This position afforded her ample opportunity to employ, her musical talent in the service of her Eucharistic Lord, whom she loved so ardently. It was a source of delight for her to train the choir in the liturgical chant of the Church. During this time, new temptations to abandon her vocation began to trouble her soul. They grew stronger as the time for her perpetual vows drew nearer. With the help of God, and under the prudent guidance of Rev. J. Slag, her director, she was able to overcome these trials.
In July, 1922, Sister Annella pronounced her perpetual vows. From that day all doubts concerning her vocation had vanished completely. She now would belong irrevocably to God. Her happiness was intense, still enhanced by the thought that two of her sisters, for whom she had offered many prayers, had consecrated their lives to God in the same convent on the same day. Sister Annella had remarked on that occasion : “My next great feast will be when I leave this world.” And so it was.
The many physical and mental sufferings which had been Sister Annella’s portion ever since she had entered the convent, and which she had borne so patiently, seemed to have been destined to prepare her for the dreadful tortures that were yet in store for her.
About a year after her solemn profession a peculiar skin disease attacked her body. Terrible itching tormented her by day and by night. Every available remedy was tried, but without results. Still she continued her work as music teacher and organist, although it required almost superhuman efforts. Hot baths in different solutions, lasting from three to five hours, were daily given her. Then she would fall asleep all exhausted; upon awakening, new attacks of pain would follow. The best skin specialists were consulted, but no cause of the ailment could be detected, no remedy was known to them. The condition of the sick sister grew steadily worse. Her body became so contracted, her face so disfigured that her parents at their next visit failed to recognize their own daughter. Yet, Sister Annella never complained of her sufferings, she remained resigned to God’s Holy Will, yes, bore her pains cheerfully. No one who saw her would have believed that her soul was overwhelmed with grief, her body racked with. pain.
All this was merely leading up to still greater trials that were yet to come. Head, face, hands, and feet began to fester and to bleed. The pains became more intense; the patient’s cheerfulness remained the same. Her superiors placed her in care of competent-physicians at Mayo’s Hospital, Rochester, still hoping to give her some relief. But all efforts to alleviate her pains seemed only to increase them. Finally, the doctors declared the ailment incurable. Sister Annella appeared destined to become an apostle of suffering.
With the consent of her superioress, the sick sister was transferred to her parents’ home. Her mother, although frail in health herself, was eager to take care of her suffering daughter. This happened during the summer of the year 1924. The heroism of the sufferer was yet to be put to the supreme test.
CHEERFULNESS IN SUFFERING
Sister Annella was in a most pitiable condition, which lasted for two long years. The hearts of those who visited her were moved to compassion at the sight they beheld. It was evident that only superhuman strength could enable the patient to bear those physical and mental tortures with patience and resignation. From six to seven times each day violent attacks of pain came over her weakened frame, her limbs swelled to enormous size, pus and a burning watery substance oozed out of the pores. It was to be feared that she would lose her mind, so violent the pains became at times. Yet, her mind remained as clear and alert as before. Being told that God would bless her for suffering so heroically, she replied: “It is a blessing that I can suffer this. I could not do it, if God did not give me strength.” At another time when it was remarked that someday she would be happy as a reward for her great patience, she said, “I am happy even now in spite of my intense pains.”
Her cheerfulness was remarkable. She never showed anxiety about herself, her illness, ways or means to alleviate her sufferings, leaving all in the hands of God, perfectly willing that His designs in her regard be accomplished. She even seemed to be convinced that a cure was out of the question, unless God Himself would take the ailment from her. One day she stated to her mother: “About a year ago I seemed to be almost cured. Then the thought came to me that I might not have borne my pains as patiently as God desired it. So, I went to the chapel and declared to the Lord my willingness to accept the ailment anew, if this were His Holy Will. And the affliction returned with redoubled force.” At the same time, Sister Annella was ever ready humbly to submit to any treatment which might give her relief, even though it caused her new pains.
Her disease was making rapid progress; large tumors formed on her neck and face, in her ears and mouth, over the entire body, suppurating constantly; attacks of terrible itching occurred. Her only consolation mid source of strength was daily Holy Communion, which she received with great fervor. Her mind continued clear and cheerful. As she lingered on in this marvelous union of pain and peace, her body covered with running sores, her soul serene and uplifted, the beholders could not but compare her to that model of hope and patience, the Patriarch Job. In spite of all her afflictions, she would at times do fancy work, ever eager to be occupied and helpful to others.
The devoted mother kept close to her daughter and cheerfully administered to her in every possible way. A painful ailment, which had weakened her considerably, seemed to have vanished completely as soon as she had taken Sister Annella into her care.
Despite the efforts of the mother to soothe and strengthen her daughter’s agonizing frame, no relief was found. One day Sister Annella described her sufferings thus : “I feel as if hot steam were blown against my body and I was thrust into a press with, such violence that I can barely breathe and as if the blood were forcing itself out of the pores, but could not get through.”
More unbearable even than the bodily pains was the anguish of soul which Sister Annella had to endure—interior trials full of bitterness and disgust. Being told by a friend on one occasion to make frequent offerings of her sufferings, she said : “That has all been done right from the start; fearing the pains might become so intense that I would forget to make an offering of them to God, I recommended them to the care of the Blessed Virgin, that nothing would be lost.”
Again, when a remark was passed on the excess of her pains, she declared : “It is the kind of suffering I am enduring,” meaning the mental anguish. “I have a secret with God which makes me very happy that only God and myself know what I am suffering.”
Insomnia was added to the afflictions of Sister Annella. However, it must be stated that immediately after Holy Communion she would fall into a deep sleep and apparently rest for two or three hours. During this time her limbs and muscles constantly twitched and quivered—a truly pitiful sight. Upon awakening, the pains began anew and continued day and night. Sister Annella had no desire to relieve her sufferings by drugs. She was willing to empty the cup of bitterness to the very dregs.
Strength to do this she asked and obtained from the Lord.
As the disease progressed, little thornlike stickers appeared imbedded in the pores; being pressed or drawn out, they left openings which remained for some time and caused considerable discomfort.
In the fall of the year 1924, Sister Annella’s condition began slowly to improve, thanks to careful dieting and osteopathic treatment. She was once more able to leave her bed of pain and to visit the parish church. Skin grew anew over her emaciated body, her appetite returned, her weight increased considerably. It seemed as if her cure was merely a question of time. Still, her body never regained its former normal condition: the flesh remained diseased, numerous running sores continued to cause great sufferings; the burning. pain in her stomach could not be relieved. Careful medical examinations, however, discovered that all the inner organs of the patient were in normal condition.
During the following ‘Winter (1924-1925) Sister Annella was able to go about. When this state of affairs continued in the course of spring and a part of summer, she began to hope that soon she might be able to resume her former occupation as music teacher. God’s Providence had willed otherwise. The ascent of a painful Calvary remained for her.
On one hot day of summer, her disease returned with redoubled force. The Sister had gone to church to make her confession. Immediately after the confession, a violent attack of pain drove her out of church. Bathed in tears, she arrived home tormented by pangs and anguish of soul at the thought that she might have given scandal to others by the hurry with which she had left the place of worship. From this day forward she remained unable to attend any religious services; the last and most trying series of her afflictions was to begin. Daily the priest would bring to her sick room the “Bread of the Strong,” which she received with ardent longing and devotion.
Symptoms that had hitherto not been observed in the patient began to develop. What had formerly pleased her, now annoyed her intensely; even the birds that flew past the window of her sick room would greatly irritate her—another form of mental suffering.
Accustomed to be active, the sick Sister at times busied herself with fancy work, read in the Bible or the lives of the Saints, or chanted sacred hymns. Ever interested in the welfare of others, she gladly gave advice whenever she was requested. Her own affairs she left in the hands of God, desiring that in all things His Holy Will be done. Finding herself unable to pray on account of excessive pains, she said: “I offer my sufferings as prayer; if God desired that I should pray, He would give me the ability to do so.”
RESIGNATION UNDER DIFFICULTIES
It is impossible to give an adequate description of the many phases which developed in the course of Sister Annella’s strange ailment. We can merely hint at the various sources whence arose new and terrible pains and pangs for soul and body. The palms of her hands burst open and the fissures gave forth a sickening odor. Her body was covered with large festering ulcers, several of which had two and three openings. Her scalp was suppurating so profusely that it loosened and could be lifted up. Her skin peeled off in strips, and it became necessary to pack the body in cotton batting in order to protect it against the air. A vicious, fetid, light-greenish fluid oozed forth from the pores; at times, the perspiration was clear blood. The numerous ulcers on her legs caused a contraction of the muscles, forcing the patient to keep in a semi-reclining position on her bed of agony. Moreover, the slightest move of body or limbs proved extremely painful to her. The fever, varying between 100 and 103 degrees, never left her. Her hearing was tormented by certain sounds that would re-echo in her ears and cause great annoyance.
It must be repeated here that Sister Annella never lost her wonted cheerfulness and even temper in spite of these accumulated afflictions. Praying, chanting of hymns in honor of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin, reading and fancy work remained her favorite occupations. All who visited her left her highly edified.
Nor was she spared additional forms of torture. One day she described one of these as follows: “I feel as if steel needles were darting through my head and down to the shoulders; some of them even seem to pierce through my whole body. I can see them coming; they are terrible.” Then she would try to ward them off with her hands.
Sister Annella was able to take only very little and light nourishment, although a ravening hunger afflicted her. During her slumber she often dreamt of eating food which, however, seemed altogether tasteless to her.
Several times it appeared as if she had at last reached the end of her sufferings. Her parents summoned the parish priest that he might assist her in her dying hour. It seemed only a matter of minutes until the soul would be released from the tormented body. Yet, Sister Annella herself was convinced that the end was not so close at hand. She was still ready to endure further suffering, if it were God’s Holy Will.
The consolation of being able to receive visitors, which is ordinarily enjoyed by the sick, was denied our patient. Because of her constant and excessive pains it seemed advisable to her parents to admit only close relatives and fellow religious to her sick room. It may be stated here that all physicians who had treated Sister Annella during her long illness were unanimous in declaring her ailment non-contagious.
If it happened that the pains became so intolerable that the Sister would moan and weep, immediately the thought began to torment her soul that she might appear to others, impatient or complaining. A profound anguish came over her soul when it seemed to her that “God Himself has forgotten that there is on earth such a poor creature like myself,” as she was wont to express herself in such trying hours. But the loving trust in God that had bee_n such a characteristic virtue of Sister Annella in her ailment never, even for a moment, failed her in time of dereliction. She remembered and frequently recited the words of her favorite poem: “How glad I shall be that anguish of spirit full often was mine, since anguish of spirit so often was Thine !” By ardent prayer she obtained strength to endure this interior abandonment unto the supreme purification of her soul.
TRIALS OF SOUL AND BODY
It is difficult to explain how a soul, living in a decaying body, such as Sister Annella’s appeared to be, should still be harassed by violent assaults. Yet, this was the case. These trials often became so terrible that she would clasp her hands tightly, scream and roll in her bed, strain and groan. She then implored her mother to stay at her side, suddenly turned toward the window of her room and exclaimed in a commanding tone: “Begone !” as if rebuking some unseen being.
Her body and all its limbs became more emaciated day by day; still, all symptoms, pains, and vexations continued, even increased.
Many novenas of prayers and Holy Masses had been offered up for the welfare of the sick Sister. But strange to say, her pains usually increased during these novenas. It was God’s will that she should carry her cross to the top of Calvary. The conviction on her part that there was no cure for her ailment prevented her from asking for a cure. Neither did it cause her to grieve over her condition ; on the contrary, she preserved her cheerfulness and perfect resignation, even desiring that her attendants share in her sentiments. Whenever it seemed that her mother might feel discouraged over the hopeless outlook into the future, Sister Annella consoled and comforted her, saying: “0 mother, you have done all you could possibly do for me. There is no cure. It’s God’s holy Will!”
She remarked one day to a sister in religion who was with her: “Sister, I wish I could die.” Immediately she feared that she might have scandalized the Sister and asked her pardon, declaring: “I do not wish to die; I am willing to live on and suffer as long as God wills it,” and tears of compunction came to her eyes.
Sister Annella loved the virtue of humility. If it were possible, she Would hide her bodily pains and mental anguish. When admiration for her heroic patience was expressed, she said: “Do not speak of that! I am only a heap of rottenness!”
For two years the mother of Sister Annella had cheerfully nursed her afflicted daughter. She had been happy when Mother Louise, 0. S. B., of St. Benedict’s Convent, had yielded to her urgent requests to permit her to take charge of the afflicted sister. She had considered it a great privilege to spend herself in the service of Christ’s special friend. But, now a time came when she began to feel depressed and unable to continue the exhausting work. This humiliating trial she had kept to herself. At this time the former painful ailment, which had left her on the very day when she had taken her afflicted daughter to her home, returned to her with redoubled force. Intensely worried over this sad turn of events, and calling to God for help, she suddenly felt a strong, determination to continue the care for her daughter at any cost. And, from that day forward, her ailment left her again and has never returned.
The body of our heroic sufferer had become so emaciated by continued suppuration and pains that she could be carried about like a child. Toward the end of her life another strange phenomenon of her ailment made its appearance. Satan seemed to have her singled out as one to be savagely persecuted to the very door of death. Her facial features became subject to sudden changes to such a degree that the beholder could well doubt if the person before him was the same one he had seen a moment before. At one time she had the appearance of an old debauched man, at another that of Satan himself. Yet, this did not affect Sister Annella in the least. She preserved her usual cheerfulness and resignation and successfully warded off the interior attacks of the tempter.
“Mother,” she said one day, “it seems to me as if a thousand devils were around me.” She also revealed to her parents that as a child she had at regular intervals been subjected to sudden severe attacks of anger which she, however, had secretly and steadfastly overcome. Later on these trials had ceased to harass her soul.
During her prolonged ailment Sister Anne had experienced much supernatural consolation and interior joy. When she was reminded of the many relics of martyrs and other saints she had in her sick room, she replied : “I feel that Jesus is near me and that I am close to Him.” During her most severe attacks of pain she exclaimed: “0 Jesus, send me more pain, but give me strength to bear it.” A public novena was held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Victory, Lackawanna, N. Y., August 5-14, 1926, in which Sister Annella had been included. During this time her sufferings increased considerably as had invariably been the case in previous novenas. Her death occurred on the day of the closing of this novena. The. days preceding her death were a strange mixture of great joy and terrible mental agony.
Frequently the patient gave expression to her delight at the thought that soon she would be permitted to be with Jesus. “I am happy to be able to die soon. I do not wish you to pray for my recovery and I thank God for the sufferings He sent me.”
The pains in her stomach increased in violence. “I feel as if a hammer had struck me,” she declared. And again: “I could write a book on my sickness,” or, “I am buying for myself a ticket for eternity, and it is well worth its price.” She seemed to have had a premonition that her death was not far off. The fancy work which had engaged her for many a lonely hour she handed to her mother, saying: “I cannot finish this.” She had expressed her desire to celebrate the feast of the Assumption with Our Lady in heaven. This favor was granted her.
On the morning of August 13 it was discovered that during the night her face and tongue had become paralyzed. She asked to be permitted to communicate earlier that day. After she had received the Holy Eucharist, her death agony seemed to begin ; a profuse perspiration of a brownish color covered her body, the skin peeled off anew. She exclaimed: “Oh, how delighted I shall be to see Jesus and His Blessed Mother and to converse with them !” She then consoled her sorrowing mother and sisters and repeatedly requested them to thank God. Later on she became very quiet and weak. Thinking that now the end was at hand, her parents summoned the parish priest to her bedside. Holy Viaticum was administered and the prayers for the dying were recited. After this the patient rallied again, but her cup of suffering was not yet full to overflowing.
Sister Annella was once more able to speak distinctly. Her desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ became. more intense from hour to hour. She asked ‘her mother to converse with her on heaven, consoled her, declaring that she would soon be with Jesus, Whose Bride in religion she had been and Who would not refuse her any request .in behalf of her mother. After this she. fell into a profound meditation, gazing through the window of her sick room toward heaven, then raising herself as if in ecstasy she began to recite aloud and distinctly the verses of her favorite poem “Rabboni” : “When I am dying,—How glad. I shall be—That the lamp of my life—Has been burned out for Thee!”
Toward evening she asked to see the priest. She then made her last confession. Repeatedly inquiring of her mother the hour of the day she said: “Oh, how long will it yet be!”
THE FINAL STRUGGLE
The last and most terrible struggle was approaching. The dying sister again and again requested that her bed and room be sprinkled with holy water. Satan’s attack seemed to begin gradually. Fear and anxiety became noticeable in her look and behavior, waxing stronger with each succeeding minute. Suddenly uttering a piercing, heart-rending shriek, Sister Annella seized her pillow with both hands and tried to cover her face, tossing from one side to the other, as if in an attempt to evade an unseen pursuer that was endeavoring to strangle her; screaming in horror and struggling with all her might, she caught hold of her mother’s wrist and sent forth a wild cry of fear and anguish that could be heard at a great distance. Chilled to the heart by this shriek and by the terrifying look of her daughter, the mother tried vainly to loosen the iron grip of the ice-cold hands of the sufferer on her wrist. Still endeavoring to ward off her persecutor, the Sister at last fell back groaning in strained sounds as of one near strangulation. The frightened mother hastened downstairs to summon her husband from his place of business. As she held the telephone in her hands, her husband at the other end of the line was able to hear distinctly the strangling sounds of terror that came from Sister Annella’s sick room. At this juncture the battle began to rage fiercely, beating sounds and continued screams were heard, as if the patient, whom her mother had left alone in the room, were clashing with her adversary. Returning to Sister Annella’s room, her mother found her in partly raised, partly kneeling posture with her right hand beating the air and repeating aloud : “Begone, you filthy creature! I can’t bear to see you! begone !” adding various invocations to the Lord and His Blessed Mother for help as she was wont to do in previous attacks of physical pain and mental anguish. When her father eventually entered the room, she greeted him with a smile and said : “Thank God, it’s over! I feel better now!”
After a brief pause the attack was resumed. Once more Sister Annella fell back struggling on for some time and giving forth the same strangling sounds as before. Later it was noticed that the double blanket with which she had been covered was so tangled and twisted that it was difficult to untangle. It bore mute evidence to the fierce combat that had taken place during the night. Sister Annella never revealed the details of this and similar previous trials. They seemed to belong to that secret which she had with her God.
Ere the attack had come to an end, the patient requested that she be given her reliquary crucifix. When she tried to bring the crucifix to her lips, she found herself unable to do so ; even holding it with both hands and endeavoring with all her might to kiss the sign of Redemption, her hands against her will passed over her head as if an uncanny power were controlling them. Finally, her sister; who witnessed the struggle, pressed her own crucifix to the lips of the .patient. The rosary was then recited by all present, an act of resignation was made, and the prayer to ,St. Benedict for a happy death said. During the last prayer Sister Annella became quiet.
Meanwhile the priest had entered the sickroom carrying with him the Blessed Sacrament. He placed it on the communion table on which It had rested so often before. The invocations for the dying were said and absolution once more pronounced. It was thought advisable not to administer Holy Viaticum again.
During her illness Sister Annella had repeatedly said : “I wonder if I will be afraid to die. You know I have to die all alone.” Her Divine Savior, Whom she had so ardently loved in life, wished to be near His faithful spouse and aid her in her dying hour. She, who had so often before felt His special presence, was privileged to have Him near her in His sacramental species during her final struggle.
The tempest had calmed, a wonderful change had come over the exhausted frame. Bodily pain and mental anguish had given place to a delightful ease and contentment. Sister Annella appeared joyously triumphant. Peacefully she passed away in the presence of her Sacramental Lord, surrounded by her parents, brothers and sisters, and a group of fellow religious. It was August 14, 1926, the Vigil of the Feast of the Assumption. It had been her fervent wish and prayer to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady in heaven. The penetrating, nauseating odor of corrupt flesh that had followed in the wake of her ailment disappeared altogether from the moment of her passing. Her body was emaciated to such a degree by mental and physical sufferings and constant suppuration that its weight at death was less than forty pounds. She had attained the age of 26 years.
The remains of the heroic sufferer were carried to the parish church where she had so often visited and received her divine Lord. There she lay now in her simple casket of black, clothed in her religious habit, the crucifix she had kissed so often in extreme anguish in her hands—a picture of rest after long and cruel struggles.
Thence the body was removed to St. Joseph where, amid impressive monastic ceremonies, it was buried in the convent cemetery.
Here among her departed sisters in religion, she rests under a simple cross, the emblem of sorrow and glory. May she, who had despised the world and its vanities and had chosen the cross and pain, confidently await the day of the glorious resurrection that has been promised to those who tread in the footsteps of their Crucified Savior.
Where in all the world do we find souls that have the courage to pray for more suffering as Sister Annella had done? Overwhelmed with pain and anguish, she was athirst with the spirit of sacrifice to such a degree that she asked for more suffering and the strength to endure it. There are, indeed, not a few souls that declare themselves willing to suffer much for Christ, but as soon as some grave affliction comes over them they begin to lament and complain, protesting that just this particular kind of suffering is’ intolerable. Not so Sister Annella. She was buying. herself a ticket for eternity, paying the price by a long and painful ailment, and never shrank back from the series of sacrifices demanded of her.
Her sentiments are well expressed in the little poem penned by a missionary :
I thank Thee, Lord, for suffering; I give Thee thanks for pain;
For those who share Thy passion here,
In heav’n shall share Thy reign—
And only those shall taste Thy joys Who learn Thy cup to drain.
Though worldlings look on suffering
As evil, noxious, vain.
Faith sees it as the seal of Love,
Which Thou dost ever deign
To place upon Thy favored ones.
I thank Thee, Lord, for pain.
Sister Annella’s example will serve to stimulate and encourage others to the cheerful performance of their duty in health, and to strengthen them, if sickness and affliction overtake them, by humbly submitting to God’s holy will. In the world sorrows multiply, whilst resignation and the science of suffering daily decrease; there is no longer endurance and consolation. Sister Annella has left behind the precious heritage imparted. by the practical lessons which her life and suffering teach us. Not a few have already learned this lesson and attested to being the recipients of signal favors and graces obtained through her example and intercession.
Patrick Norton’s Apparition Story
Painting the last of the light posts, I was on a ladder right in front of Our Ladies Grotto. I said to the Blessed Mother, “What an honor for me to paint in front of you. I hope I am doing a good job.” Looking down, a nun suddenly appeared to me. She wore an old habit like the ones they used to wear in the old times. How often I have asked myself “How is it that God chose me, an orphan boy from India, to meet this saintly nun and tell the story of her amazing and heroic life to a world so in need of God’s mercy?”
My story begins in 1962 when I was born in India. My parents left me as a baby on the streets of Bombay. Mother Theresa’s sisters picked me up from the side of the road and took me to St. Joseph’s Nursery where all the babies are cared for. I stayed there until the age of 7. Then they put me into a Catholic Orphanage. It was called “Our Lady’s Home.” The facility was dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.
In 1950, Our Lady of Fatima statue came to India for the first time and there were 250 boys in this orphanage. We took part in the daily mass which was said 365 days a year. We also prayed the daily rosary around 7:00 P.M. There were two priests and nuns who took care of us. My experience in the orphanage was wonderful. One disadvantage for us was that we did not have a lot of food to eat. We slept on the floor because we did not have a bed to sleep on. Sometimes we would go to the apartments next door and see what we could find. We would look for broken toys to play with or try to find something to eat. Sometimes it would just be one grain of wheat. We would rejoice over that because we would be so hungry. Some people would throw coins in the garbage because they knew that we would dig in there and pick it up. One day I found a little piece of paper ripped out from a magazine and it said “USA” on it. I took it back to the orphanage and showed my priest. He said “You will never go there”. I prayed that someday God could give me a family that I could share my life with. I did not even understand what the USA meant.
In 1964 Pope Paul VI visited our orphanage. It made world news. People from all over the world began to hear about our orphanage. I prayed every day that God would hear my prayers about being adopted into a new family. The next year there was a war between India and Pakistan. One night we had to turn all the lights off so they would not see us. We were all so scared. All I could see were these huge jets just zooming across the sky. It sounded very loud. That night when I looked up into the sky I said to God, “Forget about the war. Look how beautiful your world is!” He said to me, “I am going to bring you to one of the greatest nations on the face of this earth.” (We are so blessed to be living in one of the greatest nations on earth. We have food, clothing, and shelter and freedom to practice our faith. God definitely, has His hands on this great country. There is no doubt about it!)
One day, when I was 15, the priest came up to me and said “You are going to the United States of America”. When I heard this, I was so happy. My prayers were finally answered. I was one of the boys who was chosen to be adopted to a beautiful family in Connecticut. Everyone said to me, “You are so lucky to go to America!” Yet, at the same time, I was sad to leave them behind. I wish they could all have a new family like me.
Finally the day came for me to leave for America, I was so excited. When the plane landed at JFK Airport, I looked all around and saw lots of tall buildings and a lot of different people from all over the world. I knew that God’s Hands were in this great country. My new dad and morn and the rest of their family came to greet my brother Martin and me. They drove all the way from Connecticut to pick us up in New York and take us to our new home. When we arrived at the house I could not believe how big it was. It had at least 24 rooms. It was a mansion. My first meal was spaghetti. I had no idea what I was eating. Today that is one of my favorite meals.
My dad was the youngest judge in Connecticut. He adopted five of us and had nine of his own. There were two of us from India, two from Vietnam and one from Hong Kong. They were an Irish family. They treated me very well. I got along well with my step brothers and sisters.
In 1984 my father died of colon cancer. I had only known him for about eight years. My mother noticed a change in me and asked if I would like to go to Medjugorje on a pilgrimage. She said the Blessed Mother has been appearing there. I prayed about it and decided to make the trip out there. When I went to Medjugorje, I could feel the peace and joy there. I knew that the Blessed Mother was appearing. I could feel her presence. I started getting even closer to God. I could feel peace there that I cannot even explain. When I was outside by the water fountain in front of St. James Church, I heard a soft gentle voice and I turned around and I saw a young girl standing there. I asked her, “Did you say anything?” And she said,” No, I did not say a word!” I then knew it was the Blessed Mother who wanted me to meet her. Little did I know that she would be my future wife, Sandy. We went on our first date to Apparition Hill to pray the rosary. When Sandy and I got back to America, we kept in touch and now we have been married for 24 years and have known each other for 26 years. We have three children: Maria, Anna and Joey. We named them after the Holy Family because we met in the most beautiful footlands of Medjugorje.
When I first came to St. Joseph, Minnesota, I took jobs working for different companies. But later on, I decided to be a self employed painter. I have now been painting for 16 years. In the fall of 2010 when work was becoming slower, I took a temporary job working at St. Ben’s College. One of the jobs they asked me to do was to paint seven light posts near the Grotto of Our Lady. It took me about one and a half weeks to remove the old paint and repaint all of them. As I was on a ladder painting the last light post, directly in front of the grotto, I said to the Blessed Mother, “I have never painted in front of Our Lady before.” I wanted to respect her. So I said to her, “What an honor for me to paint in front of you!” I said that twice. Then I said to her,
“I hope I am doing a good job!” Looking down, a nun suddenly appeared to me. She wore the old habit like they used to wear in the old times. She said to me, “You are doing a wonderful job!” She talked to me for a few minutes. It was as though the Blessed Mother had just sent her to me to tell me I was doing a good job. After I said good-bye to her, she disappeared in front of me. I said, “Boy, do they come and go around here.” That day, I did not tell anyone about the nun’s apparition that I experienced. I just kept it quiet for about a year. The next year, my boss called me back to paint again at St. Ben’s College. After some time he said to me, “Patrick, I have known you for a year now and I want to tell you something. Phenomenal things have been happening around here at the college. People have been telling me stories about seeing things at the cemetery.” He asked me if I would walk with him in the cemetery. I said, “Sure!” While he and I were walking through there, we both felt a tap on our shoulders. We both looked back in the same direction and we saw no one there. Then I asked him, “Is this what you are talking about?” He said, “Yes!” I told him that I cannot explain what just happened to us. For one year he and I did not tell anybody what we experienced. When the next year came along he called me back to work again. We had both still kept that experience a secret.
One day I met a young man at St. Anthony’s Church and I introduced myself and I asked him if he was a priest. He said, “No! I am a writer!” He asked me, “Pat, where do you work?” “I am a self-employed painter and I work at St. Ben’s College in early fall, winter and late spring.” As soon as I had said that, he said to me, “There is a holy nun buried in St. Benedict’s Cemetery.” Then I asked him, “What is her name?” He said to me, “Sister Annella Zervas. She is already called the Servant of God.” He was a young man and I asked him how he knew or heard of this holy nun. He said he had found her book at the Stearns County Museum. He said he was looking for a book to read and this file showed up. He said he tried to promote her but he did not get anywhere in the process of doing so. A few days later I told my boss at St. Ben’s College that there was a holy nun buried there in St. Ben’s Cemetery. He was very surprised to hear that. The next day he and I went to look for her grave but we could not find it. On Mother’s Day I decided to go there to see if I could find her grave. I presented a rose to the grotto where Our Blessed Mother was and I said to her that she was the best Mother in the whole wide world. I asked her if she could show me where Sr. Annella’s grave was. As soon as I started going towards the cemetery there was a lily lying on this rock right in front of one of the graves. When I went up to see who’s grave that was I discovered it was Sr. Annella Zervas. The lily was gently blowing in the wind. It was as though someone had just put it there. I knelt down to pray to her. I told my boss that I had found her grave and that was the exact spot where he and I felt that touch on our shoulders.
Five days later, Sr. Annella appeared to me in a dream. I saw three nuns all wearing their old habits from the 1900’s. Sr. Annella was standing in the middle and I did not recognize the other two nuns. Later on I found out that the other two nuns were her two sisters. I again told my boss what I had seen and told him that Sr. Annella had big, round eyes. I asked him if he had any information on her. He said I should go to the monastery and ask the nuns if they had any information that they could give to me. When I got to the monastery all the nuns were walking across the room and I asked if anyone of them knew about Sr. Annella Zervas. They all kept on walking except for one of them. She came up to me and asked if she could help me. I then asked her if she knew about Sr. Annella. Yes, she knew Sr. Annella. She said, “My name is Sr. Annella too. I was named after Sr. Annella Zervas. Young man, what brings you here?” I told her that Sr. Annella appeared to me. The nun told me that Sr. Annella died in 1926 and was only 26 years old. After she died, thousands of people came from all over the world to visit her grave. Many miracles were happening and thousands of letters were pouring into the monastery. They could not keep up with the phone calls and reading all the letters that were coming in. I asked Sr. Annella why she is not a saint. And she said, in her gentle voice, “None of the nuns are promoting her. I am the only one!” Then she said to me, “After I leave this world I don’t know of anyone else who would want to promote her.”
After that, Sr. Annella showed me a book about the story of Sr. Annella Zervas and it had pictures of her in it. I asked her if I could have the book and said that I would make sure to help promote her. She gave me a copy of the book and I told her that I would like to see every Minnesotan receive this book. I began to make a few copies and started to hand some of these books out. Not too long after I was doing that I was getting phone calls from people all over Minnesota. They would call and invite me to give talks and bring groups of people to visit Sr. Annella’s grave. I now enjoy praying at the grotto where Sr. Annella appeared to me. Many wonderful people that I have met through this experience have been coming back to join me in their prayers as well. I decided to pray the rosary and the Divine Chaplet when I go there because Sr. Annella also had her private time praying the rosary in front of the grotto. Once a month, pilgrims come from all over to visit the grotto and Sr. Annella’s grave.
The reason we are praying the Divine Chaplet is that we are asking God to open up her beatification someday. I have been doing this for 5 years now. Miracles have been happening and we will report any miracles to our Bishop. I told him my experience about the nun appearing to me and he said that I should continue doing the work of promoting her. He told me this three times. Bishop Donald Kettler also visited her grave. People have asked me if I feel her presence, I tell them “Only if God allows it to happen.” They ask me, “Why do you want to promote her?” I tell them, “Because this is Sr. Annella’s life story and it brings people closer to God.” I am asking Minnesotans to pray for me. Also, I am asking those pilgrims that have come to the grotto and her grave to spread the word and promote this beautiful nun. This is one of the toughest jobs but with God all things are possible. I leave everything in the hands of the Lord and Our Blessed Mother.
Thank you and I love each of you, even the St. Benedict’s Monastery. You will all be in my thoughts and prayers. God Bless you all!
Patrick Norton has had no ordinary life and God continues to have His fingerprint on every step of Pat’s journey. Pat believes in the power of daily prayer, time with the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, holy mass, frequent confessions and praying the rosary. “I always put the Lord first before everything,” says Patrick. You will be inspired and filled with hope when you meet Patrick. He invites you and your families and friends to visit the area where he first encountered Sister Annella Zervas. If you would like Patrick to pray for you or something special please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
To obtain the Beatification of the
Servant of God
SISTER M. ANNELLA ZERVAS, O.S.B.
0 HEAVENLY Father, who art the Author of all virtue and the Source of all holiness, and who, through Thy faithful servant, Sister Annella Zervas, hast been pleased to give the world an example of patience and obedient resignation under suffering, we pray Thee to grant us the grace which we ask through her mediation, and thus to manifest her sanctity, that Thy Holy Church may soon be able to proclaim it for Thy greater glory, 0 God, and for the glorification of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, whom Sister Annella loved so fervently. Amen.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father (three times).
Lord Jesus, glorify Thy Spouse Sister M. Annella Zervas, O.S.B.
We beg of Thee by Thy Holy Cross
Let us continue to pray for Sister Annella’s
intercession in our world and in our lives.
Address all communications to the Rev. Joseph Kreuter, O.S.B., St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.
For more information call:
Patrick and Sandy Norton
SISTER M. ANNELLA ZERVAS, O.S.B.
of the Convent of St. Benedict
St. Joseph, Minnesota April 7th, 1900 – August 14th, 1926
Professed Date: July 1922