Friends of Sister Brendan Conlon at her memorial service in Kermit, West Virginia on September 24, 2021

By Sister Janet Peterworth, OSU

They gathered one by one, carrying chairs and heavy, but grateful hearts, as they gathered to remember their friend, mentor, and associate, Sr. Brendan Conlon. The people of Kermit, West Virginia, in Mingo County, could not let her pass without saying what they wanted to say to pay tribute to her.

Saturday, September 24, 2021, was a beautiful fall afternoon. Some came from up Marrowbone Creek, some came from Pikeville, Kentucky, some came from Big Laurel Ridge, some came from Williamson and Logan, and some came from just across the park in Kermit. It was a mixed crowd of town and hollow. But all were there to speak their tribute. The time opened with a song, “Little David” sung by an authentic mountain woman who felt the words deeply. Then, Pastor Brad, a Christian Help board member read a tribute from the chair of that board and Anna Mae Wellman spoke her tribute on behalf of the Kermit town council. And so, it began.

“She got me a car so I could get to work and when that one died, she got me a second one. They were old, but they were everything to me.” said one.

She told me “You can do that—until I finally believed that I could. And that got me a job with the state that brought good pay and family health insurance,” said another.

“She was genuine…nothing false about her. She had a smile that welcomed you no matter who you were,” a third offered.

“I loved her. We sat on her porch when I was supposed to be cutting the grass in the front yard and talked about the Bible and Jesus. I just loved to listen to her tell her way of looking at it and then I would tell her mine. Often, we did not agree, but that was okay—we were still friends,” yet another chimed in.

“She was my mentor when I took over as director of Christian Help. I was a social worker and knew nothing about running a nonprofit, but she helped me learn and was so patient with me,” Christian Help’s present director remembered.

There were lots of laughs about the animal stories. Cats and dogs of all sizes and shapes, colors and body types rescued and cared for. There were stories about the pet cemetery in her backyard and living dogs and cats that slept soundly in the mounds of clothing that were in clothes baskets in the Christian Help store. Some laughs slowly turned into soft tears of remembrance.

And so, the tribute went from Methodists, Free Will Baptists, Church of Gods, Church of Christs and one or two Catholics. She would have been embarrassed and would have looked down at her feet and said, “No, not true. I did so little. I wanted to do so much more, but just ran out of time.”

Yes, it was a beautiful fall afternoon in Mingo County, West Virginia, a mountain place that gave its heart to Sr. Brendan Conlon and she, in turn, left her heart there with the people of those mountains.