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Sister Patti's Pigeons

As we approach the Feast of St. Scholastica, we often think of her brother Benedict's vision of Scholastica's soul leaving her body in the form of a dove three days after their final visit in "holy conversation." This time of year is also a wonderful reminder to Sister Patti Cielinski, OSB and the pigeons who landed on her windowsill in the spring of 2002. These unlikely guests to her windowsill brought new life into this world before her eyes. It was that journey into the lives of pigeons that transformed her perspective with these little-known creatures and beyond.

Here is Sister Patti's Pigeons Story:

Our 108 year old Monastery in Chicago is still graced with its original, larger than life, double-hung windows. The scene from any one of them can be spectacular, entertaining, and meditative. My own “window to the world” for nearly 27 years faces east. I sleep high above the boulevard, viewing lush trees or their bare branches, depending on the season. I keep a narrow clay flower pot on its sill, filled with any variety of greens and flowering plants. At Christmas, evergreen boughs take their place. It’s my “secret garden” … or so I thought until that Saturday morning in 2002.

It was late March and the weather was typical Midwest-brutal. My holiday arrangement, including colored lights, still decorated the sill. As I soaked in that morning’s sunrise, I noticed an accumulation of twigs caught between the pot and the window frame. Was the debris a result of some “Windy City” gusts? I quickly answered my own query; it was intentional. Resting on the twigs was an egg! Day #2 arrives and so does egg #2, along with my increasing curiosity. Who is this family growing right before my very eyes?

Their parents are not concealed for long – two pigeons, mates-for-life, arrive to care for their own. They rotate, night and day, keeping the tiny white eggs safe and warm. He is also tasked with strengthening and enlarging the nest by adding more twigs, always gingerly tucking them under her and their clutch. And all this time, the nest remains pristine. Pristine and pigeons (“rats with wings”) – that’s an oxymoron but while those eggs were in their care, they behaved impeccably. I learn from minimal research that in 28 days the eggs will hatch. In the meantime, I wait with them, feeling extremely privileged to have this front row seat into their life cycle. When the squabs are hatched, a new set of activities begin. The motion of the four birds is constant on that narrow window ledge. Both parents feed their young with a liquid they produce. The noise level is continuous, high-pitched, and loud. Note too, no longer is the nest pristine!

I go unnoticed on the other side of the screen, only inches away. Their instinctual skills are impressive. And this is when I personally understood that phrase: “…only a mother could love.” Baby pigeons are not cute. Their scrawny, featherless bodies have hard work in store if they’re to “fly the coup” in about four weeks…and that they did at the end of May. Regrettably I missed that moment. I was working when they took their departing flight but I had watched them practice flapping their wings; I felt they were prepared to explore life beyond my window.

I had a photo diary to remind me of the past two months. I purchased a book that detailed their history and value in society; even in Christianity. The pigeon is a descendant of the rock dove; it has a noble lineage.

Yet everyone did not share my enthusiasm about their hold in my life. That’s when I began to understand the source of prejudice in human nature. We pass judgment without really knowing a situation or a person. Fortunately I had been given the opportunity to be “up close and personal” with this enemy to so many. No longer did I see them as the “flying rats” others detested.

I keep a photo of egg #1 on my desk at work as a reminder of that transforming learning experience. I do not want to forget the importance of familiarizing myself with the unknown and misunderstood people and situations daily life presents. Listen, learn, love…

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