Sister Maria Teresa was left on the doorstep of the abbey whilst she was still damp from birth. Her tiny whimpers drew the attention of feral cats and when the sisters opened the door to shoo them away, they discovered the bundle of tattered rags wrapping the baby girl.
Mother Superior said they must pray for her soul and she should be brought up in the way God would wish. She would be their opportunity to demonstrate to God how much they loved him and to make her in His image, here on earth.
One of the sisters had served at an orphanage so raising the Maria Teresa fell to her. Sister Mary fed the girl, took care of her at night, soothed her childhood ailments and taught her as best she could. When the girl was older, she helped Sister Mary with her chores and in time took on simple chores of her own. Sister Mary was not permitted to teach the child more than a few words, so that observing silence would come more easily to her.
In time a strong bond developed between the two. The girl had no physical or emotional contact from anyone else and barely even saw the other sisters. Mother Superior judged this might colour how Sister Mary raised the child, so she relieved her of those duties and Mother Superior took them on herself. That night Maria Teresa slipped out of bed at the sound of the main gate opening in the darkness and through her barred window, she saw Sister Mary being driven away by a man in a cart.
Mother Superior never explained what had happened that night and Maria Teresa did not have the language to ask. She had no words to describe the sadness at losing her friend but she did not know what she felt was sad. She had no way to explain the loneliness that filled her but she did not know how she felt was lonely. Mother Superior taught that God is love but Maria Teresa did not learn, for she lessons had shown her love is fragile and temporary and leads only to hurt.
Sister Maria Teresa took her vows at 14 and lived out her years in the same cell that she had once shared with Sister Mary. She struggled with emotions, ached for a child, saw sisters arrive then leave or die, worked her chores, got ill and recovered, aged and became stooped, lost the ability to walk and aged 101, descended into senility. She did all these willingly but without God’s love, which never once touched her.
Sister Maria Teresa worked and struggled and lived and died without the capacity for words, except with her last few breaths. She whispered “Mary” and a smile settled on her lips.