It’s likely that many of the priests, cardinals, and bishops working inside the Vatican knew her face, although no one knew the real story of the Pallottine Missionary sister who had made St. Peter’s Square her home.
They would have walked by the unknown woman often, passing by her perch on the base of a Vatican column, her rosy, wind-chapped cheeks peeking out from her puffy blue coat and pilling hat.
“I can’t say that she was a saint. Only the Lord knows this,” Father Hans-Peter Fischer, the only priest in Rome she spoke to, said in April. He told CNA the story of Sister Maria Lucindis Stock a month after her death on March 11.
The 82-year-old Sister Lucindis, as she was called, was buried inside the Vatican in the cemetery of the Campo Santo Teutonico, a place she knew well. It was there, in the chapel just off the cemetery, that Fischer first encountered her more than a decade ago.
In 2011, the German religious sister started to attend the 7 a.m. daily Mass at Santa Maria della Pietà, celebrated by Fischer, the rector of the church and adjoining German seminary.
At first, Fischer thought the elderly woman was an ex-religious. “She was a bit particular,” he said, pointing to his head. He noted that “she always lived in the square.”
Fischer recalled that Lucindis spoke only German. She knew very little Italian, but “she spoke with the heart.”
Day after day, “she was alone in the square watching the people,” the priest recalled. “She roamed from morning to night. I don’t know if she prayed.”
Lucindis was not homeless herself, but she was esteemed by the men and women who spend the day in and around St. Peter’s Square and sleep along its edges at night, Fischer said.
Most nights, Lucindis slept at the general house of her order, the Pallottine Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate, which is a 10-minute walk from the Vatican.
Other nights, she found an open bed in one of the nearby shelters for the homeless.
“She was a very great challenge for her community,” Fischer explained. He said the other sisters always treated her well, even while she made things difficult by her unusual behavior.
“I have always obeyed,” Lucindis used to say, according to Fischer. “But I must obey the Lord.”
The priest said that the Pallottine sisters tried to get psychiatric help for their community member. She was admitted first to a hospital in Italy, and later in Germany, but she protested both times and eventually ran away.
Lucindis told Fischer that after her escape from the German hospital she lived in Israel for two months, followed by Hong Kong for another month.
In Hong Kong, Lucindis slept in train stations and in the home of a friend she had made, she told the priest. She said that in February 2013 the news reached her that Benedict XVI had resigned as pope, which prompted her to make her way back to Rome to be present at his final Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Fischer knew nothing about this story for years, until Lucindis confided in him in an hour-long conversation on her deathbed, after she received the last rites.
He was called to her room in the convent on March 4, as the only priest from whom she would agree to receive the sacraments.
Lucindis had developed an infection in her legs. It was treatable with an antibiotic, but after a short stay in the hospital, she asked to leave and did not continue to take the medication. The infection spread to her blood.
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Despite developing blood poisoning, the 82-year-old continued to go to the place she knew best, St. Peter’s Square, until about a week before her death, the priest said.
When Fischer brought her the sacraments, “it was a celebration,” he recalled. She was “very awake” and “very pious,” and that time helped her to reconcile with her community.
After several hours of intense lucidity, Lucindis slowly faded, like the dying wick of a candle.
The religious association that owns the Campo Santo Teutonico offered to bury Lucindis in its cemetery in Vatican City, out of respect for her own request.
“It was clear that [Sister Lucindis] would not have accepted to return home to Germany, because she never accepted this in life,” Fischer said.
The association, the Archconfraternity to the Sorrowful Mother of God of the Germans and Flemings, had in 2014 and 2015 overseen the burial of two homeless men in their cemetery, which is usually reserved for the association’s members.
There, Lucindis was laid to rest, close to the place she had spent her days, in relative obscurity.
Fischer said that he expected her funeral in Santa Maria della Pietà to be attended by the small group of sisters of her order and her two brothers, who traveled from Germany. But the church was packed. He has no idea how so many people heard about her death.
People thought Lucindis was homeless, he said, recalling one Holy Thursday Mass she attended in his church, pushing, as always, her little wheeled cart: a humble woman surrounded by bishops and cardinals of the Vatican.