Good Zeal

The Dead Sisters’ Money

A Scattering of foreign coins to be sortedIn the last few weeks, one of the projects I have undertaken has been to consolidate and organize the remnants of the community’s coin collection. The major portion of this and the stamp collection were sold in 2010, and the proceeds went toward the renovation expenses. I was somewhat surprised several years ago to learn that collecting activities had not stopped. Sister Eleanor had continued gathering coins and stamps from various sources. At some point in the last five years she had transferred the coin and stamp boxes to me since I serve the community as both the Treasurer and the Archivist. Not quite sure what to do with them, I brought them to one of the archive rooms for safe keeping.

With the current task of removing non-archival materials from the archive collection, it was time to deal with these boxes. With the idea of possibly donating the foreign coins to a school for educational purposes, I thought it best to organize and label them as much as possible. It was quite an experience opening small boxes and vintage coin purses to discover coins from all over the world—from Australia and New Zealand to Kenya and Zambia. In the process of sorting, I became more and more fascinated by the dates on the coins, some of which dated back to early and mid- 19th century. The oldest coins are 2 Chinese coins from the 1600’s and two British coins dated 1797 with King George III on the front. I was glad to have Sister Michelle’s assistance with identifying the coins that were not easily recognizable or legible.

Once the foreign currency was organized, we decided to tackle the U.S. coins. Occasionally we would stop to see if any of the coins had any considerable value as a collectable. One of the most unique finds was a 1961-D Lincoln Penny struck on a dime planchet, meaning that it is the color of a dime with the embossing of a penny. A few Franklin half-dollars were hidden among the Kennedy half-dollars. There were a handful of steel pennies that were minted only in 1943 and a couple of Morgan dollars from 1879 and 1891. We were quite surprised to realize that we had over one hundred Buffalo Nickels once all of the various bags of coins were sorted and arranged by kind.

Throughout the project I would wonder about the multitude of hands through which these coins had passed. Since most of the coins were significantly worn they clearly were in regular circulation for a long while. I wondered whether individual Sisters got these coins while on a journey of their own or if someone else gave them as gifts. Some of the foreign currency reminded me of my own trips to other countries. The U.S. coins reminded me of my mother’s coin collection—particularly the Bicentennial quarters she would set aside rather than spend.

This project, while it initially had a practical purpose, reminded me how imbedded our lives are in the history and social context of the places in which we live. Jesus was a man of his time and place. St. Benedict was a man of his time and place. We are a people of our own time and place. This reality can be very limiting, narrowing our vision and understanding as if all of history must be interpreted through the lens of the here and now. Or, it can be liberating, allowing us to see the blessedness of diversity and of the varieties of culture and heritage across time and place.

Another passing thought that came to me during the course of this project was the lesson from Jesus when he was asked about paying the census tax, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mk12:17). Money is a worldly thing. It only has value in a given context. When countries change its currency, the old currency has value for a limited time before it become obsolete and worthless. The handfuls of Italian lira and French francs that we have here from a time prior to the European Union are essentially worthless as obsolete common coinage. Monetary values fluctuate as economies and governments shift and change over time.

God is everlasting. Investing in a relationship with the everlasting God is a far better investment than one’s 401K. It gives dividends and returns far more precious than what we put into it.

Consider all that you have collected in your room, your closets, your house, your apartment. What value or usefulness do these things have? Do these things represent memories or accomplishments? Would they be more useful or meaningful to someone else? Do they make you happy or do they just clutter your life with distraction?

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

P.S. The title for this blog came about as a result of a discussion at the dinner table one night. We laughed at how intriguing it sounded—if not for a blog than a good mystery novel.

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