Sister Carmen de Oliveira Contente
“A sign of God’s goodness to the poor of the Amazon”
Sister Carmen was born on July 10, 1927, in Belém, Parana. She was admitted to the Company of the Daughters of Charity on April 27, 1953. She celebrated her Easter for the eternal abode on September 2, 2003, in Cametá, Parana.
Sister Carmen fully lived her total gift to God and the poor. Her testimony of fidelity to consecration is remembered by all who lived, worked or received her care. We describe below two testimonies: one of her former Sister Servant and another Sister for whom she cared.
“I lived with Sister Carmen de Oliveira Contente for 7 years in the Community of the Institute of Nossa Senhora Auxiliadora dos cristãos, Cametá, Parana and I could see many signs of holiness in the experience of the Vincentian Charism, of which I would like to highlight”:
CULTIVATING THE INNER LIFE: Sister Carmen had a taste for the life of prayer. Even with physical limitations she hardly missed the moments of community prayer and created other moments to be intimately united to the Lord. She used to write her meditations and these were deep. I had the opportunity to read a few. Her week of prayer was carefully prepared, all arranged in writing. Every time she went to her office in the School Office, she always passed in the Chapel and stood before the Tabernacle for a moment of adoration. Her countenance, at the moment of meditation, seemed to change, perhaps by deep intimacy with the Lord. She participated with much love and respect for the Eucharistic Celebration, and even when she could no longer go to Mass, she asked to confess and receive the Eucharist.
FRATERNAL LIFE: Her life of intimacy with God was reflected in her fraternal relationships. She had a love for her companions and seemed to know the difficulty of each one, because when something negative was said about a Sister, she soon presented something positive, emphasizing values or health limitations that could be causing such behavior of the other Sister. She used to be present in the moments of Community Life and when a Sister was absent, she went to meet her and said she missed her. It was fraternal. If we experienced any difficulties, she was a friendly and comforting presence. When we were happy she participated equally. It was difficult to notice in the Community whether she had any preferences for one or the other because she was paying attention to all.
SERVICE OF THE POOR: She said she would not want to be far from the poor: “Since my sending on a mission the Company sent me to the service of Christ in the poor.” When a Sister criticized her for working in private school and not being with the poor, she replied: “I find them everywhere I am sent, they are not far from me if they are not near, I go to visit them in their homes. This is my obligation as a Daughter of Charity, to go where they are.” During the week, even in the face of intense activity in the College, she prioritized time to bring the Eucharist to the sick and at the weekends she visited the poor. She took up with dedication and responsibility the Secretariat of the College, a service entrusted to her by the Community for 17 years. She was known and esteemed by parents, students, and staff for her attention and courtesy in attendance. She treated everyone with her loving word “Aunt” and everyone treated her as well. I once witnessed her attendance to two children who had fought on the playground. When she came before them, she said to them, “My children, you are tired and thirsty and must want water, you are sitting around waiting for me.” When she returned with the water, the boys had reconciled, asked her forgiveness for the work they were giving her, and she counseled and asked them to go to the classroom. With her delicacy of treatment, she was winning hearts.
Another event that marked my memory was in the celebration of her golden jubilee. She asked to make lunch for 50 poor and she was happy with the party. Her last birthday was celebrated with the poor children and she asked the friendly people for toys to be donated to these children invited to the birthday party. Already unable to perform her work in the secretariat of the College, she devoted her life entirely to the prayer. In this period, even sick, she continued to accompany two ladies affected by depression. Sister Carmen prayed with them to motivate them to grow in faith. She wrote prayers for them to pray at home. The two ladies were healed and continued to participate actively in the life of the Church.
Here is the witness of one of the Sisters:
Living the experience of God through a person who gives in love and service in an individualistic society like ours is the greatest grace we can receive. I can affirm with my life that I have intently experienced this grace.
Sister Carmen de Oliveira Contente was an angel whom God presented to me at an extremely difficult time in my history to hold my hands and give me the assurance that my life would be rebuilt by Him with the help of the Virgin Mary and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
Knowing that I was suffering from the evil of depression, Sister Carmen, without even knowing my right address, came to me at my house to help me in the darkness of my life, so that Jesus could be light, expressed by the conviction of her blue eyes and the gestures of the good Samaritan. This happened not only with me. It was normal in our city Cametá, where for 17 years Sister Carmen carried out her mission as Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. With her simple, humble way of speaking and serving anyone who needed her, the “aunt” was there always ready to serve. The greatness of her mission and the human being that she was, consisted in seeing God in small things.
In order to perceive God in the life of Sister Carmen, it was enough to live with her, in the visibility of her gestures which, throughout her life, incarnated the teachings of Jesus, when she taught, saying: “I came not to be served, but to serve and to give life in ransom for many “(Mt 20,28). This certainty she carried in her heart and translated in her mission, lovingly dedicating herself to doing what in the limitation of her life, pleased the heart of God. A person who surrenders his life to live with God does not live for himself or cultivate the passions of the world, but, rather, those who are in Christ, already have their passions nailed to the cross
Even in old age, and with cancer that took her to eternity consuming her body, she did not interrupt spending her life to serve. Love for others ran in her veins. So she endeavored to take Jesus as comfort to the suffering of others, even if it were necessary for her to be at risk. And by serving anyone who needed it, whether it was the lack of material or spiritual goods, with her presence, she wanted people to know that they were not suffering alone but that they could trust the great deliverer of all evils, Jesus Christ.
Her visits were divided by her affection and sharing of the Gospel in a simple, dynamic way that enveloped me with so much hope that that devastating evil of depression would pass. Remembering these moments, I still feel a very strong emotion. When Sister Carmen sat next to me in my bed, it was as if she wanted to share with me what I was feeling, comforting my pain, wiping my face wet with tears. I sensed in her gestures the extent of God’s love caressing my soul. Holding my hands she sang: “It is enough that I touch you, Lord, my soul will strengthen, If the night is dark, Your presence will guide me …”. Among other songs that reassured my soul like: “Hold your hand of my Lord of Galilee. ” “Put your hand in the hand of my Lord, who calms the sea, my lord, who watches over me all night long, and puts his hand in the hand of my Lord, who calms the sea.” The sound of her voice echoed in my ears for a long time. And today looking at everything she has done for me, I have no other feeling to define her: “She was a saint in the daily life of our people in Cametá.” Her life was one of total surrender to God in the service of the poor, so we can portray it: “it was God who created it, who wanted it and consecrated it, to proclaim His love”
[SisterMaria do Socorro Furtado dos Santos, on March 2019]
In the last days of her life, she shared with me some experience of faith that she had lived and that she dared not speak to anyone fearing to be criticized. Sister Carmen told me that after being affected by cancer she started to have daily intestinal problems and she was in great pain. During that time she lived in the community Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Tucuruí /PA. After taking several medicines under medical supervision, she was referred to treatment in Belém, the state capital. On the eve of her journey, she got up at two o’clock in the morning in severe pain, almost unable to walk, went to the Chapel to ask for her healing from the Lord and was inspired to go to the community pharmacy to get medicine to take. Arriving at the place, she did not want to turn on the light to see the medicine, fearing to wake the Sisters. Then she put her hand on the pharmacy’s shelf and picked up a small glass and by the touch, she realized that it must be taken in drops. Prepared and swallowed, she returned to her bed and after many sleepless nights, managed to sleep well. Early in the morning, she went to tell her Sister Servant that she did not need to travel because she had recovered, but she did not dare to tell what had happened. She took with her the glass of the medicine of which she took only one dose and was cured. Out of curiosity I took it and went to the pharmacies to see if it was that medicine, but I did not find it. I was told that maybe it was an old medicine that was no longer marketed. She told me that at that moment she was sure that it was God who healed her.
Sister Carmen also told me that Sunday she went to Mass in the parish church of Saint John the Baptist and does not know the cause, but suddenly she lost her sight. She thought of asking the person next to her to take her to the Communion time. But when she knelt, she begged the Lord to heal her vision, and when the priest concluded his consecration, she saw again.
These are some signs of holiness that I perceived in the life and mission of Sister Carmen de Oliveira Contente during the period when I had the grace to live with her in the Community Nossa Senhora Auxiliadora – Cametá – Parána. May God pray for us from heaven.
[Sister Rosa Maria Leite dos Santos, Visitatrix of Amazon Province]