Reverend Mother Placid (Patricia Ann) Dempsey, 85, consecrated nun of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, died September 27, 2012 at the Abbey after a long illness. Described as a tiny giant, Mother Placid—artist, poet, and guest mistress for over 50 years—touched the lives of thousands of people.
Patricia Ann Dempsey was the youngest of four children of William Ambrose Dempsey, New York City trial lawyer, and Kathleen Costello Dempsey, teacher and housewife. The Dempseys migrated to America at the time of the great famine in Ireland and settled in Pennsylvania where Mother Placid’s grandmother ran a saloon in the mountain mining town of White Haven. The Costellos were metal craftsmen for centuries in Ireland. Her maternal grandfather was instrumental in bringing the Knights of Columbus to Brooklyn.
|Seat of Wisdom|
While at Marymount, Patricia attended a talk given by Mother Mary Aline, co-foundress of the newly-established Benedictine Monastery Regina Laudis. Her curiosity aroused, she came to Bethlehem with a friend in 1947, arriving in the midst of a blizzard. She described what she found: “It was so cultured, so simple…There was a freshness here, a mystery—like going into some huge stillness, going into God.”
|Our Lady of Constancy|
Her extensive work as monastic artist included painting, graphics, vestment design, enamel, wood, stone and concrete sculpture, and book illustrations, notably the covers of several of the “Classics of Western Spirituality” series. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in this country and Europe, especially in New York City and Paris. Her well-known “Stations of the Cross”, hand-carved out of a neighbor’s cherry tree, grace the walls of the lower monastery chapel at the Abbey and continue to be a source of prayer and inspiration for visitors.
|Station of the Cross|
Mother Placid designed scenery for several Abbey plays as well as buildings used for the Abbey fair. She was instrumental in the development of monastic crafts and supervised the renovation of the Monastic Art Shop to include an art gallery and display space.
In the Abbey, Mother Placid taught classes in monastic history and spirituality, philosophy and the Rule of St. Benedict. She was much influenced in her early life by the writings of Jacques and Raissa Maritain whom she later met when they visited Regina Laudis in 1949. She maintained scholarly and spiritual friendships with psychiatrist and author Dr. Karl A. Menninger, and with Caryll Houselander, the English Catholic author. Among her most cherished relationships was the one with renowned children’s book illustrator Tomie dePaola, who first came to Regina Laudis as an art student. They became colleagues and fast friends, each enriching the other’s work and life.
|Ruth with Boaz|
Her deep sense of culture and breadth of education, and her frank love of people were supreme assets in this work. Moreover, she brought a depth of wisdom and understanding, in her inimitably playful way, to the work of forming communities of lay persons desiring to give themselves to Christ, through their professions.
Religious life is generally misunderstood, mostly by people who never get to know what it’s about. Entering is like the first day of creation for you. You come to find out what God has put you here for. You walk in, and this place will set off all the light and dark places in you. It’s a pressure cooker. You will walk into all the trials you need to clean up your act and learn to love.
--Mother Placid Dempsey