BRADENTON -- The women were going through bins of clothing in the parking lot when the car pulled up behind the Stillpoint House of Prayer on 14th Street West.
When they saw the diminutive Irish nun step out, they dropped everything, began to sing a Spanish hymn of praise and rushed to embrace her.
Sister Nora Brick was home.
“They didn’t forget me,” said the 81-year-old Franciscan nun and native of Tralee, Ireland.
Forget Manatee County’s “Sister Teresa,” who spent 37 years ministering to the migrant community? Never.
What followed was an joyous morning of hugs, kisses, tears and more song -- Sister Nora and Pat Glass sang “Rose of Tralee” during an METV taping -- inside the house of prayer sister founded 17 years ago.
“We were so happy to see her, we didn’t want to let her go,” said Roberta Zepeda. “We want her to stay. She’s still very much in our hearts.”
Especially Bobbie Tischer who held Sister Nora in a long, tearful embrace.
“She’s our hero because of her spirituality,” the volunteer said. “We’re all looking for people to look up to, people who walk the talk and she truly does.”
“We miss her so much,” said volunteer Casey McClash.
Sister Nora has recuperated at her order’s convent in Tenafly, N.J., since her Valentine’s Day attack. Police say her suspected attacker, 51-year-old Eliseo Ortiz, is still at large.
The homecoming, albeit brief, clearly touched her.
“I felt a oneness and empathy and sympathy both with everyone,” said Sister Nora, who has a big function Sunday at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Parrish. “There’s great healing in that in heart, soul, mind and body with such beautiful people, who have come here faithfully for many years.”
Healing that includes her alleged assailant, a man who used to work for the sister.
“Eliseo has a very good heart. I forgive him,” she said. “In fact, I would like to see him, because I know deep down he is a good person. Although many hearing me say this would say I should choke him.
“I hope he will not suffer, but the law has to do what the law has to do.”
Her superior, Sister Donna Driscoll, said Sister Nora’s recovery has been remarkably quick and she is starting the transition to retirement.
“Of course, she misses here and will miss it here for long time, but she is making a great adjustment (in Tenafly, N.J.),” said the order’s provincial.
“There are caregivers there, who are Hispanic, and they’ve come to love her. They said, make sure you bring her back. The same thing is happening there that happened here.”
The reunion left an impression on Sister Noelle Hart, who will assume Sister Nora’s duties in August.
“To see people still appreciate her was very heartwarming and it made me appreciate who she is,” she said. “I will never be able to replace her, but with God’s grace I will continue the mission here.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.