Little Sister of the Poor Benedict Petry, 95, died April 2 at the Jeanne Jugan Center, surrounded by her community of Little Sisters, residents and friends. She is survived by one sister, Mary Ann Petry, Gallup, NM, nieces and nephews, and her Little Sisters of the Poor community.
Frances Petry was born in Long Island, New York, in 1915, one of twelve children born to Joseph and Frances Olinger Petry. She was a shy child growing up, preferring to stay home with her parents and siblings. She “dearly loved children” however, so after earning her teaching credentials, Frances taught school for several years. All the while she felt an urge to do something different, so she sought out her parish priest to ask for advice.
One day he told her that he had found a place for her, she recalled in 2007. “That place was St. Anne’s Novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens. I thought “old people?” But when I thought about it, I realized I had always associated with the elderly.”
She entered the novitiate in October, 1940, and made her first profession of vows in 1943.When she entered the community, she left her parents and nine siblings. “My mother never said a word to stop me, even though I was leaving her with younger children to care for,” she said 66 years later.
Sister Benedict, an intrepid beggar, followed the tradition begun by Saint Jeanne Jugan, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor. St. Jeanne begged to provide for the needs of the elderly poor in her care. She walked the roads of France, carrying a basket and knocking on doors for food, clothing, firewood or money.
Sister Benedict also knocked on doors, in Mobile, Ala., New Orleans, Nashville, St. Louis, Palatine, Ill, France, and eventually Kansas City. She learned begging by going house to house asking for money, food or clothing. She came to Kansas City in 1978, and with a companion begging sister went to markets, bakeries and stores begging for items the Little Sisters Home for the Poor needed that particular day. Begging was a 9 a.m. — noon job, seven days a week, and Sister Benedict was faithful to it for more than 50 years.
“When I was 16, I was too shy to even answer the telephone,” she said. “If my own dear mother was alive and saw me now, she wouldn’t recognize me. Begging forces one to meet lots of different people and take the ups with the downs, the yeses with the nos. The Lord grants blessings where he sees they are needed.”
She had many memories of begging, and said she was never happier than when she was begging, going about doing God’s will. No two days were ever the same. She liked begging for that reason. Sister Benedict compiled a log book of benefactors that give generously each year, and the current begging sister, Sister Christine Mary Ng, has been introducing herself to them during her nine months on the job. “I still have much to learn about our benefactors,” she said. “Many of them ask about Sister Benedict, what she is doing and how she is.”
Kansas City St. Joseph Bishop Emeritus Raymond Boland recalled that when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005, “I called up Sister Benedict and told her that the cardinal had telephoned me. He said he wanted to use her name. She got the biggest laugh out of that!” Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
Being a Little Sister of the Poor was a good life, Sister Benedict said. She was content to grow older, hoping to reach 100 years of age. “Just put me with the elderly,” she said. “I’m one of them.”
Until her last years, she rose early every day and attended Mass with her community, as well as meals, prayer and recreation. She never gave up living or smiling. She said she was once accused of being lazy since it only takes 13 facial muscles to smile and 63 to frown. But smiling cheered her and the elderly residents around her. Although her physical condition declined, Sister Benedict remained alert and cheerful until the end, Sister Beatrice Mary Scully, lsp, who knew her well, said. Her greatest happiness was to see Jeanne Jugan canonized a saint on Oct. 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated April 7, in the chapel at the Jeanne Jugan Center. Burial followed at St. Mary’s Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Little Sisters of the Poor, Jeanne Jugan Center, 8745 James A. Reed Road, Kansas City, Mo., 64138-4414.