A Dog Named Hope,
Chapter 9, Conclusion
By Mike Mooney
One morning that October when the nun arose in whose room Hope had spent
the night, the little dog seemed disinclined to jump down off the bed.
Hope raised her head and looked at her bed mate guiltily, who stood in
the door encouraging Hope to come out. Instead, Hope put her head back
down on the bed and turned her face from the light.
The stones of the floor were cold, Sister Elizabeth Jane reflected,
but they were not that cold. Then she noticed that when Hope lifted up
her head she panted with a rapid breath.
Led down off the bed to her bowl and her water, she was unsteady on
her feet. All that fall the nuns had reassured themselves about the young
dogís health. She had made it though the burning summer heat that would
put the most strain on her heart, and she would be all right, they had
reasoned, at least until next August.
The vet in Wyalusing was called, and when she came out and examined
Hope with the stethoscope, the little dog lay on the stone floor and didnít
lift up her head.
"Is she suffering," Sister Mary wanted to know.
"Theyíre wonderfully stoical, but I donít believe sheís in any pain,"
the veterinarian said. "Sheís an active dog, and Iíd guess she wants to
work, but she canít quite get her breath. Iíd say, if sheís suffering,
"Is there anything we can do?"
"Let her stay outside in the sun," the doctor said. "This wonít go on
and on, you know."
They made up a pallet for the dog, placed it in the sunlight where she
could see the green fields and the grazing sheep if she cared to look,
and in the late afternoon when the sun left that corner of the courtyard,
they carried her back inside the building. The second day when they carried
her out she didnít even lift up her head to look, and that evening she
It wasnít anything that anyone did or didnít do, Alice Tomey reminded
Sister Mary over the telephone. There wasnít anything anyone could have
done that was left undone. It was the way things were, and the way they
had been from the beginning.
The nuns grieved, and for a time it seemed that life had stopped in
the convent of Mount Carmel. Still, the cows had to be milked, and the
sheep moved and fed. Through Alice Tomey, Sister Mary applied to Marcia
for another dog, and in time another dog came to the convent, a wonderful
male dog named Jed who was related to Hope through his fatherís line, though
not through his motherís. He was trained to herd sheep and cattle, and
had many of Hopeís fine qualities, her willingness and intelligence and
But Jed was not Hope, and some of the sisters had no interest in him.
Sister Mary recognized this as part of the process of grieving, and when
in her estimation their rejection of the new young dog had gone on long
enough, she took it upon herself to remind her fellow sisters of all the
qualities the two dogs had in common, including their mortality.
"Jed wonít live forever, either, you know," she reminded them, as if
she sensed that this was what they held against him most, that he was in
better health than Hope had been. "We must forgive him his good health,
even as we rejoice in everything Hope has taught us about what it is to
Life went on at Mount Carmel, and work on the looms went on as well.
The complex picture of many panels wound itself tightly around the take-up
boards of four separate looms, and as it did, there appeared many scenes
that involved a small black and white dog, in the field with the sheep,
in the dining room underneath the table, even one on a pallet at the foot
of a sunlit brick wall looking out across a field where sheep grazed underneath
a deep autumnal sky.
About a year later, the bishop came to the convent. His visit was announced
in advanced, and much anticipated and planned for by the nuns. He arrived
with his secretary on a Saturday afternoon, toured the grounds, met in
private with Sister Mary in her office, and had dinner at the long table
in the dining room with all the sisters present.
The bishop was a pleasant man who tried to put the sisters at their
ease. He asked many questions about their way of life and their care of
the animals, and seemed perfectly satisfied with their answers. The October
day had been bright and clear and sunny, and the nuns all felt that the
green grass, the red barns and white out-buildings, indeed the whole place
simply sparkled. But the bishop didnít seem to notice any of this, and
his questions instead seemed intent upon determining whether or not they
were content, living as they did, so apart from the world and its many
vexing problems, whether or not they didnít feel they could better serve
their Lord and Savior by taking a more active part.
Sister Mary was quick to respond, and indeed she seemed to have anticipated
this particular line of questioning, and perhaps it was only that the others
felt so threatened and even defeated by the bishopís question, that their
Mother Superiorís answers seemed hardly to weigh in the balance.
The bishop was staying the night in Wyalusing, and that night after
dinner, after he and his secretary departed, everyone was very low. He
was to return the next morning to say Mass in the convent chapel, before
his journey back to La Crosse, but it seemed to everyone, and perhaps even
to Sister Mary, although she tried to put the best face upon the matter
ó it seemed a foregone conclusion that the bishop had come in the archbishopís
place because the intention of the archdiocese was to close down the convent
of Mount Carmel.
"We mustnít be discouraged," Sister Mary said, after evening prayer,
before they retired to their several rooms, "because we were unable in
a sentence or two to sum up the meaning of our lives. Even if we had, whoís
to say he would have listened or heard? Tomorrow is another day, and perhaps
in the morning on the road from Wyalusing he will remember something and
She seemed to hold out hope that upon his return a little light would
dawn, and indeed, the next morning when the sisters entered the chapel,
it occurred to them what Sister Mary was thinking. The day broke clear
and sunny, and the light in the chapel streamed down through the high clerestory
windows and shone upon the great weaving that now filled the space behind
the altar, floor to ceiling and side to side, hung in such a way to take
on the curvature of the space in front of the faded mural.
The bishop came early, and some people from the town had driven out
with him, so that the little chapel was nearly full. No one could remember
the last time a bishop had said Mass there. He delivered a homily, taking
as his subject Psalm 23, laying especial emphasis on the comfort the Lord
Shepherd brings to His flock in their time of need and their days of trial.
But for the group of twelve sisters, if the truth were told, they hardly
heard the bishopís words, so intent they were upon the beauty of the thing
they beheld there on the wall behind him, so mightily they hoped to make
him turn around and understand the thing that loomed there behind him in
the apse, which as it seemed to them justified the meaning of their lives
far better than they could have done themselves in words.
At the end of the service, the secretary approached the bishop, and
the nuns could see him direct the bishopís attention to the thing hanging
there before them. The bishop looked, nodded his head several times, and
as if he had not noticed the thing till then, thanked the secretary for
bringing it to his attention. Then he turned to Sister Mary.
"How many dogs do you have here?" he pleasantly inquired.
"One," the nun answered, and paused as if his question confused her.
"That is, we had one, the one in the picture, but she died. Her name was
Hope. Now we have another, and heís a very good dog, too."
"Yes," the bishop agreed. "Hope, you say? I had a dog when I was a youngster,
one named January. He was a good dog, too. I suspect all dogs are good
ó in the eyes of their masters."
The secretary smiled, as if the bishop had hit upon a great truth in
"But Hope was special," Sister Mary insisted, as if she had missed the
point of the bishopís gentle jest. And then with sudden inspiration she
asked if the bishop would care to see their dog Jed work. She didnít know
why she hadnít thought of it, because nothing seemed to her to epitomize
and capture so well what they had learned here in their life as the way
the dog and his mistress, the woman and the beast, worked together in the
field for the benefit of the flock.
The bishop glanced at his watch and then at his secretary, and with
a sympathetic inclination of his head politely declined. The good sister
must understand, he said, the terrible constraints his work put upon him
which prevented him from doing that which under ordinary circumstances
he might have very much preferred to do.
Three months later, just after the New Year, word came from the diocesan
headquarters that the convent of Mount Carmel was to be closed. The sheep
were sold in February, before their sheering or their lambing. The cows
were given to a neighboring farmer. The dog Jed was sold to Alice Tomey.
And by April lst, the last of the nuns had gone.
The nuns had been assigned to other convents, much as they anticipated,
in La Crosse and Madison and Milwaukee, teaching convent with urban missions,
and whoís to say it wasnít for the best and that following their years
at Mount Carmel they didnít have a great deal to offer to the world in
their new surroundings! The buildings of the convent were boarded up, the
pastures rented to the neighboring farmer, the gates to the courtyard closed,
and once every month or so a caretaker unbolted the small wooden door beside
the gate and walked around the premises, to see that nothing was disturbed.
Nothing was disturbed. A few tiles fell off the chapel roof and came
to rest in broken pieces in the deep grass of the courtyard beside the
stone steps. A neighboring farmer made arrangements with the caretaker
to store hay in the barn, and pretty soon he was storing equipment there,
too, and the golf cart on which Hope had ridden to the far pasture got
covered up with assorted lengths of lumber. Pigeons found their way into
the dormitory, and the atmosphere of the upper floors of that building
took on a dim feathery softness, and a gentle cooing came from behind many
partially opened doors.
Two years later, Marcia stopped in Sturgeon Bay to visit Alice Tomey
and her dog Jed. Alice told Marcia of the closing of the convent, and in
the course of half an hourís talk they came to the subject of Hope, and
Marcia expressed a desire to see the place where Hope had lived and worked.
They agreed to do so at the first opportunity.
In October of that year, the opportunity presented itself. On the road
to Wyalusing, when they had nearly arrived, in the distance they saw the
chapel with its pink dome at the top of its hill. The road dropped down
and turned, and they lost sight of that eminence, until the road turned
back again and rose up, and suddenly the dome of the place was just above
them. Alice parked, and the two women and Jed found the gate unlocked and
entered the convent grounds.
They poked their heads into the kitchen and the loom room which were
empty of objects except for a few strips of wood leaning in one corner,
which Marcia recognized as spacers for a loom. They walked down to the
fields where the neighboring farmerís cows grazed close to the fence. Jed
went around smelling everything, but the two women were quiet for the most
part, taking it all in, except when Alice explained how it had been with
the sheep, before the arrival of Hope, with the nuns in their black and
white habits spread across the field, with their arms outstretched trying
to herd the sheep.
"That was before Hope," Alice said. "Did you know the first day she
came here she howled?"
"It doesnít surprise me," said Marcia.
"They rang the bell when she came in the van, and she opened up her
throat, just like a wolf, and howled."
"It doesnít surprise me," Marcia said again. "Her father howls, too,
The chapel when they entered it was full of pigeons. The pigeons flew
up into the upper air, underneath the dome, and came to rest on ledges
and sills, and the murmur of their voices came down to the women below.
The air was dusty in the streams of light falling through the high clerestory
windows. The altar was a piece of marble raised up on stone legs ten feet
in front of the curved wall of the apse. It was evident that something
hung in the apse, a kind of dusty screen or drapery, and walking up to
it Marcia touched it with a piece of wood, one of the spacers she had picked
up in the loom room, and as if she had waved a magic wand, a layer of dust
fell from the place the wooden spacer touched.
Another touch of the wood, and more dust fell, from which the women
started back, covering their mouths and noses, only to look again and see
revealed a portion of Sister Ellenís tapestry. There was a green field
in which sheep grazed. A nun stood in the field in her habit, with her
arm raised in command, and beyond the sheep on the other side of the field,
a small black and white dog, with one foot raised and her red tongue hanging
out, crept towards the sheep who were as yet unaware of her presence.
Marcia applied the wooden spacer liberally then, and the air was thick,
and the two women laughed and coughed, until the dust settled and light
shone down on the whole of the nunsí creation, which they had made out
of the sum of their differences, because a little dog had showed them the
Looking up at the picture, Marcia said, "I never should have given Hope
There was a funny sound to her voice, which caused Alice to look at
her without answering.
"Thatís the trouble with a dog like Hope," Marcia continued, gazing
up at the picture. "With all that talent and one grave defect, she was
like a little light in a dark place, making you forget the nature of things."
"But itís better to forget, isnít it?" Alice said, because she sensed
the pain and the grief in Marciaís words. "Itís better to forget, and have
hope, even if only for a time!"
"Itís better to remember where you are and what youíre about," said
Marcia hoarsely. "Itís better to know the truth and face it."
"But thatís so grim," said Alice, and there was a note of fearfulness
in her voice. "If thatís all we think about, the way things are and the
nature of things ó if you can never have hope, but then you can never have
this!" And she gestured to the weaving.
Together the two women looked at it.
"So you think itís better," Marcia said, considering, "to be blinded
for a little while and forget the nature of things?"
"Yes, I do," said Alice. "Yes ó if it leads to this."
- The End
|Preceding chapters of A Dog Named Hope can be found in previous
issues of The Irish American Post.
Chapter 1, September, 2004
Chapter 2, October, 2004
Chapter 3, November-December, 2004
Chapter 4, January-February, 2005
Chapter 5, March, 2005
Chapter 6, April-May, 2005
Chapters 7-8, August, 2005