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Stillpoint carrying on without Sister Nora

BRADENTON -- It almost seemed like another Monday morning at Stillpoint House of Prayer on 14th Street West.

People brought in donated clothing in plastic bins, and volunteers sorted through them while children scurried around with no school on Presidents Day.

Other volunteers sat with folks needing help with their rent.

“It’s business as usual, and people can still come here for help,” said Office Manager Don Gaudette. “I know sister would like that.”

Sister Nora Brick would, indeed.

If only she were present to show her approval.

The 81-year-old Franciscan nun continues recuperating at an undisclosed location after being beaten at her home on Valentine’s Day and hospitalized for three days.

Her alleged assailant was Eliseo Ortiz, 51, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. He remains at large.

Once Sister Nora is well enough, her order will bring her back to their convent in Tenafly, N.J., to retire.

That void was apparent Monday morning.

“It’s not the same without her,” volunteer Joan Warwick said.

They missed her sense of humor.

Her compassion.

Her energy.

“She made it fun,” Warwick said. “She’s always making her little jokes, making her faces. It’s hard.”

Sister Nora’s absence was felt outside the building as well as inside.

“People have been coming by to see if she’s OK,” Warwick said. “It’s weird, her not being here.”

Customarily, Sister Nora sits at a desk by the main back door and interviews people seeking financial assistance.

“They had to go through her first,” said volunteer Casey McClash. “She was the keeper of the gate.”

Sister Nora was the face of Stillpoint, which she founded a decade ago.

Not having her identity is a concern when it comes to sustaining community support.

Food shelves were bare except for baby food, though volunteers think the holiday interrupted the usual Monday drop-off.

“Operationally, we’re just trying to keep things going best we can with day-to-day activities -- still writing checks for rent and utilities, still giving food away, giving clothing away,” said Vista volunteer Jeff Belvo.

“But the big thing for us is everything we operate on here is strictly donations. Just individual people writing checks. As long as people keep contributing, keep dropping off extra clothing, donating food, we have the infrastructure in place to keep going day to day like that.”

According to Belvo, another Franciscan nun will take Sister Nora’s place.

Meantime, Mary Finnerty, a longtime friend of Sister Nora, and her fellow volunteers will keep busy.

“I feel devastated about what happened to this holy woman,” she said.

“I also feel that be- cause of her I know this will carry on. Someone will fill her shoes. People will continued to help. Everyone knows what she started and will continue it in her name.”

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Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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