In January 1943, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the President of the United States, the nation was in the middle of World War II, and St. Marys had just recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding on Dec. 8, 1842. It was also in January of 1943 that Sister Victoria Marconi, O.S.B., joined St. Joseph Monastery.
While a lot has changed in the almost seven decades since then, Sister Victoria remains an active member of the Benedictine Sisters of Elk County and considers herself to be "blessed" for everything that has happened since that fateful day in January 1943. In honor of her approaching 90th birthday and 69th jubilee, her family recently held a small celebration in her honor at the Sacred Heart Parish Activity Center.
Born Lorenzia Marconi on Dec. 17, 1922, to the late John and Catherine Marconi, Sister Victoria was the oldest of the family's six children. Next in line was the family's lone son, John, who died several years ago, followed by Elizabeth "Liz" Mascuilli, Loretta Langton, and Mary Louise Reuscher. Their youngest sister, Theresia, died at the age of four.
Growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, Sister Victoria recalled that she always felt she had a calling to join the convent but initially tried to fight it.
"I remember sitting in the front seat in church and I was only about five or six years old and I looked up at the Lord and I said, 'Lord, will you marry me? I want you for my husband,' and then I figured that was sort of my call. But I fought it, when I got to be a teenager I was going to marry a doctor. I got a date with the doctor, but when it came time to go home, I said, 'That's the end,' and I just was not content. I tried everything else, but I was not happy with anything else I tried. So then I came to the convent and that was my answer," Sister Victoria said.
While her mother was supportive of her decision to enter the convent, her father and brother were not initially thrilled with her choice.
"He (her father) and my brother hid under the truck the day I left. They didn't say goodbye to me. But about three months afterwards he (her father) did come up to see me and sort of broke because I was his oldest and he depended upon me," she said.
Mary Louise Reuscher remarked that she could distinctly remember the day her sister left for the convent, recalling that Sister Victoria had even been hesitant to tell her where she was going.
"She had on a navy blue dress and it had an all-pleated bottom, and she had a little fur jacket on because it was in the wintertime. She waved to me when she went across the railroad tracks," Reuscher said.
Though the convent was located relatively close to her family's home and they could visit her once a month, Sister Victoria was otherwise cut off from them because of the cloistered lifestyle she had to maintain.
"I was strictly cloistered," she said. "I went right past the house and I couldn't even go in."
Reuscher also remarked how challenging it was initially for her and the rest of her family.
"When she (Sister Victoria) went, they weren't allowed to come home and visit or anything. When they traveled to a doctor's office or something like that, they always had to have another nun with them," Reuscher said. "They were not allowed to travel alone. If she went by our house, which was on Mill Street, and we were out, we were not allowed to talk to her. It was pretty cloistered when she first went in.
"I think she was actually the only Italian in the whole convent. All the rest were German sisters."