Photo: Marian Archives
Sister Lucia died on Feb. 13, 2005, just a few weeks before Pope John Paul II. The two friends are pictured above.
Sister Lucia: 'Mary's Witness'
Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the three shepherd children.
Two of those children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, died in a flu epidemic a mere two years after receiving visits from the Blessed Mother in a little Portuguese field called Cova da Iria (Cradle of Peace) near Fatima. The third child, their cousin, lived to be 97 years old. Her name was Lucia dos Santos. We know her as Sr. Lucia, a Carmelite nun who served her life as Fatima's face, a face of great beauty and peace that would never grow tired of the awe of those miraculous days in 1917.
Sister Lucia, "Mary's witness" at Fatima, died in February 2005 — on the 13th. Dr. Branca Paul, MD, felt the last earthly beat of the heart of Sr. Lucia. It was a final beat that echoed through nine decades, and sounds yet today.
Dr. Paul, who was Sister Lucia's personal physician for the last 15 years of the nun's life, saw her patient daily. When it became clear that Lucia had lost her will to live, Mother Celina, Prioress of the convent in Coimbra, Portugal, called Dr. Paul.
A check of her vital signs showed the Fatima visionary would not live long. She had slipped into a coma. There was nothing to do but wait for this beautiful life to commend its spirit to God. But then Lucia surprised everyone. She lifted her head and began moving it back and forth, trying to see in front of her.
"For the Holy Father!" Lucia said. "Our Lady, Our Lady, holy angels, Heart of Jesus, Heart of Jesus! We are going, we are going."
"Where?" Mother Celina asked.
"To heaven," Sr. Lucia replied.
"With whom?" Mother queried.
"With Our Lord, Our Lady, and the little shepherds," Sr. Lucia answered. They were her last words. Francisco and Jacinta had come along to take her to heaven.
As Sr. Lucia's physician, Dr. Paul spent much time alone with Lucia over the final 15 years of her life. She got to know her as well as anyone. What was she like?
"She was bright, determined, funny, fun-loving, yet practical," Dr. Paul said. "She loved jokes and puns. She also, of course, had a profoundly humble spirituality.
"We were very close," Dr. Paul continued. "It was amazing that she was so normal, simple, and humble. Full of joy and laughter, always joking and smiling a lot. For example, when I came in to see her in a new hairstyle or new clothes, Sister would kid me about it. Sister Lucia was great to be around. Her infectious joy made everyone more happy."
Dr. Paul said Sr. Lucia never tired of talking about Fatima — Our Lady's message of reconciliation, reparation, and prayer, particularly reciting the Rosary. Lucia did become frustrated, however, when people wanted to focus on the miracles and secrets.
According to Dr. Paul, "She used to say, 'The miracles and secrets aren't important. We must concentrate on Our Lady's message. Live the Ten Commandments. That's what's important.' To this, Lucia added her 11th Commandment: 'Do whatever God tells you. That is what Our Lady wants.' "
That's a message as relevant today as it was 90 years ago.
Doctor Paul cared for Lucia up to her death at age 97 at 5:35 p.m., Feb. 13, 2005. Interestingly, the Great Mercy Pope, John Paul II, would die only a few weeks later on April 2.
The two spiritual friends were closely related through Fatima, Lucia for obvious reasons and John Paul because of his devotion to Our Lady and the attempt on his life in 1981. May 13, the date the Pope was gunned down, marked the 64th anniversary of Mary's first appearance to the three shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal. In a gesture of thanks for saving his life, the Pope made a pilgrimage to Fatima in 1982. He placed the bullet that had been taken out of his body into the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. In a gesture of solidarity, Sr. Lucia joined him.
No one had more intimate contact with Sr. Lucia than Dr. Paul, and in our talks, she invariably stressed the good humor and joyous nature of her famous, and famously humble, patient. This nature showed itself in many ways. For example, when a young nun was having trouble or dealing with a difficult problem, Sr. Lucia was always there to offer consolation and encouragement.
"Sister Lucia had a joyful spirit that was contagious," Dr. Paul says. "Even if you were glum, she found a way to brighten your spirits. I know she provided many consolations to her sisters in the convent, particularly the novices, postulants, and young nuns, who just adored her."
Anyone who spent much time with Sr. Lucia would soon be in the presence of a first-rate wit, a woman who loved jokes, humor, and kidding, even into her late 90s.
"In her last years, she had to use a cane to get around," Dr. Paul relates. "We often went on short walks, and when she reached for her cane, she would say, 'The cane needs me now. It cannot stand up or move without me.
I have to help that cane.' She'd say this with a twinkle in her eye and that wonderful laugh."
Lucia often talked to Dr. Paul about her days as a young child, usually spent with her cousins and fellow visionaries Jacinta, 7 years old in 1917, and Francisco, 9, at the time. She would mention Our Lady, the sound of her voice ("an interior voice you could not hear with the ears"), her radiant appearance. One time, when speaking with Dr. Paul about the apparitions, Lucia began laughing.
"In speaking about Our Lady's warnings about the 'errors of Russia,' " Dr. Paul said, "Lucia would tell me that she and Jacinta thought 'Russia' was an evil woman. She said Francisco thought he knew better. He said, 'No, you girls are wrong. Russia's not a woman. It's my uncle's donkey!' "
Dr. Paul called it "a great honor" and a gift from God to be given this access to a patient, who, in many ways, "helped cure me."