Sister Eleanor Harrison is an icon of our community. She also is one of our elders – both in age and in grace but definitely not in mind! A native of Birmingham, she has spent most of her life in the Diocese of Birmingham except for a short time of ministering in Montgomery. Her curiosity and interests are varied and expansive, including news, politics, history and science. She finds art, music, and theater thoroughly engaging. She is truly a Renaissance woman!
For most of her life, Sister Eleanor was a teacher. But, because of her many attributes, especially her ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds, she also served the people of God in administrative roles both in the monastery and in various ministries. There is a long list of friends to whom Sister Eleanor has given of herself to enrich their hearts, minds, and souls. Even her astuteness in administrative matters continues to make itself known during our community meetings.
The one quality that far exceeds all the rest is Sister Eleanor’s magnanimity of heart. She never meets a stranger. Every person who comes within her orbit is recognized as special, and she naturally engages with each individual accordingly. She is totally interested in the utter uniqueness of each one. She reaches out and seeks to be present with each as he or she has need. She laments with the sorrowful, laughs with the joyful, and encourages the downhearted. When you walk away from Sister Eleanor, you know that she cares about where you are at this moment in your life, what you are doing, and where you are hoping to go.
One never feels judged in her presence; rather she always expresses words of encouragement and hope. Furthermore, if there is a need, Sister Eleanor will do everything in her power to see that need filled. She has a special place in her heart for those who are unjustly treated or deprived of the necessities of life. Equal justice and anti-racism were very much a part of Sister’s life long before it became a national awareness campaign–encouraging and supporting, in so many ways, women and men of all races and nationalities, particularly in the areas of education and spirituality.
Sister Eleanor continues her ministry of hospitality in her retirement years with regular phone calls, emails, snail mail, and in-person visits (when not prohibited by pandemic concerns). It is difficult to find a more devoted friend. Whenever I come home to the monastery from my place of ministry in Huntsville, I always go by her room to get that extra boost of unconditional love.
For me, Sister Eleanor personifies Christ to all those she meets both within the monastic community and without. It is evident to all who know her what constitutes the core of her being. Although in her nineties, with failing vision and creaking bones, she makes her way through the monastery halls to chapel for prayers, for Mass, or for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. She truly is a woman of God, a dear friend to many, and an inspiration to all. We are so blessed that she is a part of our lives!
By Sister Veronica Ryan, O.S.B.