by Ron Petrou
Ed. Note: Ron Petrou, a resident of Mt. Airy, is a former high school English teacher at Kimberton Waldorf School and the founder/director of Wordsmiths, a public relations firm in King of Prussia. He is now writing a book about his own life and the lives of his wife, Martha, a nurse; his father, Stephen Petrou, a former pastry chef of the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, NYC; and his daughter, Catherine, a psychiatrist in Los Angeles. The following account of Martha’s quest to see an angel is from the book. Martha died of cancer in 1996.
Here is an account I recorded on Oct. 28,1989, that my wife, the former Martha Ford Brady, gave of her experience as an 8-year-old in 1947 with what she thought would be an angel. She was then an orphan in the Nazareth House Orphanage in Glasgow, Scotland, run by the Sisters of Nazareth Order. She was placed in the orphanage as a 3-year-old in 1942 by the Glasgow social services department because her mother, who was an alcoholic prostitute, left Martha and her five siblings under the care of an alcoholic woman friend who carelessly allowed Martha’s six-month-old sister to roll off the top of a bureau and die of a broken neck.
• Martha: I found that the sisters in the orphanage were lying about people turning into angels when they died. Whenever anybody died, the nuns would say that he/she would be turned into an angel and that they would be living with God. They said we had all these wonderful angels. Then one of the nuns died, and one of the nuns told us — I think it was Sister Hildegarde — that we had to give vigil for her and prayer. She told us that God would take her to Himself, that she would become an angel, and she would go directly to heaven. They were full of these simplistic stories about what happened after death.
I was 8 years old at the time, and I decided I wanted to see an angel. I wasn’t afraid to go and see an angel because I knew that angels protected us. And I was a Child of the Holy Angels. I had joined the Sodality of the Holy Angels, so I didn’t feel there’d be any problem with me meeting an angel. So I crept down the stairs. I was a little scared because it was dark at night. And I crept along the hallway to the church. The coffin was there. And there was a prie-dieu on either side of the coffin.
• Ron: What’s a prie-dieu?
• Martha: A prie-dieu is a kneeling thing with a place for your book or your elbows. There were two prie-dieus on either side of the coffin, and there was a nun keeping vigil on the other side. Keeping vigil means everybody relieves one another. We would keep the vigil in the daytime, and the nuns would keep it at night when somebody died. Somebody had to be keeping vigil at all times. We used to take turns, with three or four girls keeping vigil.
You kneel and pray for an hour, and then somebody relieves you for an hour, and they pray for an hour. And you’re relieved all day. So at all times praise and glory is going towards Christ. Well, there was a nun there that I knew well. She was a sweet, old nun in charge of the old people. I could hear her snoring. So when it appeared that she was really asleep in the middle of the night, I crept up, and she didn’t wake up.
I didn’t see an angel, so I thought the angel must be in the coffin. So I climbed up onto the prie-dieu, but I couldn’t see into the coffin because it was on a trestle. So I climbed up onto the rung of the prie-dieu to get my head over the side of the coffin. And as I did it, the coffin on a trestle moved. I fell into the coffin with my hands. And you know what was in it? A dead nun. She was as hard as anything and cold. And so I was terrified. So I jumped down off the prie-dieu and ran behind a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the church we had the coffin sitting in the aisle and a little altar of St. Joseph’s on the left-hand side looking toward the major altar. On the right-hand side there was always a statue of Joseph in an alcove, and on the left side there was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in an alcove. I slipped behind that statue because I couldn’t get out of the church. I didn’t want to be seen because I knew I would get into trouble.
I was terrified. I was very upset because I had been lied to because it was not an angel in the coffin. I really expected to see an angel. I really wanted to see one, and I was told there’d be an angel there. I thought I was going to see a beautiful angel. I had stayed awake at night. I had gotten up and gone down through the cold in my bare feet to see an angel, but there was just somebody dead. So I was hiding and shivering.
Well, I waited and then the sister in charge was quiet. I decided to make a run for it because I thought the sister had gone back to sleep again. And by the Blessed Virgin Mary there were candles lit in front of her. So it was all candlelit in front of the statue when I ran out. And what happened is that the candles must have lit up my hair. I had this red hair and a white nightgown on when I ran out of the church.
Well, the next morning we got this news from sister Hildegarde of this wonderful thing that had happened while the old sister was keeping vigil. What happened was that the sister said she saw an angel. So we knew that sister had been blessed. And the angel came from around the Blessed Virgin. She was at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. And this sister insisted she had actually seen the angel. And then I realized after a while that I WAS THE ANGEL!
So the sister got her angel, but I didn’t get mine.
I realized then that the nuns were gullible. They thought that I was the angel because I was the only person who knew that it was me down there. And the angel was described as having this beautiful golden hair and a long white gown. Sister saw me very clearly except that through her myopic vision she thought I was an angel coming from around the back of the Blessed Virgin. And then I disappeared. How about that?