Sister Clemente Davlin (March 6, 1929-December 19, 2017)

I just heard the sad news that Sr. Clemente Davlin, OP, my friend and former colleague, died today. She was not a young woman and the news is not unexpected, but it’s hitting me hard.

I met Clem in 2007 when I started teaching at Dominican. She was technically retired, but so Present in the campus community in both formal (teaching, showing up to meetings, mentoring) and informal ways. She was a brilliant medievalist. She knew Piers Plowman like no one else I’ve ever met, regarding it not only as a literary text to study, but as a devotional text for a modern Catholic. I heard her give many scholarly talks, but she also wrote Journey into Love, a collection of meditations for the modern devout on the poem.  I have, of course, known other good colleagues and friends, wise people (many of faith), dedicated teachers, and great scholars. Still, Clem was unique.

The word I have always used to describe her is this: holy. Clem was holy. It’s not a word I use lightly. I study holiness and sanctity in other periods, always taking it seriously as a phenomenon despite (or perhaps because) being a secular Jew. Clem had a kind of depth to her holiness, her clarity of vision, and her patience with us lesser beings as we stumbled along. She knew we needed to find our own paths, but was willing to take whatever time she had and help us along the way.

Holiness doesn’t mean reserved or ascetic, either. My favorite memory of Clem, bar none, is the day she walked into my backyard for a Memorial Day bbq. My daughter and her friends were throwing around a beach ball and it went flying towards the octogenarian nun’s face. She caught it, beamed, and tossed it back, before coming over to the party.

These few paragraphs do no justice to the person we’ve lost, as words never really do. She blessed my children. She told me to work hard in the classroom. She wanted to make sure every student had every opportunity. She had no pretension about her but never concealed her light.

I miss my Dominican family. I miss Clem. The world is a lesser place without her.

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