The Remarkable Anita Louise Reaves
Entered into life February 10, 1922 and Entered into enteral life May 12, 2012
It is the one-month anniversary of Anita “Nita” Louise Reaves’ death; she is foremost in my thoughts today, an extraordinary volunteer and our amazing Resident.
I conduct a series of short interviews with Nita over the course of several months quite by accident. At first, just stopping to say hello to the civil person who always offers a polite greeting and smile followed by a quick penetrating look into my eyes. Eventually Nita reveals that she is “just resting for a few minutes [on the settee in the lobby of the Jeanne Jugan Residence] after returning from ‘work’ and before I make my way upstairs.”
H: Oh, where do you work?
A: I work at the Shrine.
A: I work three days a week from 9 to 4:30 but I go in whenever they need me.
H: Do you mind if I ask how old you are?
A: Laughs, 90.
H: Wow, have you ever thought about slowing down?
A: [She hesitates before responding] Maybe, eventually, I guess. I’ll retire someday but I think older people should keep active, just get up and go out… it really helps you.
H: What will you do when you retire?
A: Something I really love!
H: What’s that?
A: Volunteer at my church.
I am charmed and intrigued. Who is this little lady sitting on the settee in our lobby this evening? I ask if she would agree to a more formal interview and a story in our newsletter. She hesitates but then says, “Yes, if you think it will help someone.” I did and do think it will help someone. So, we had the interview, I fell in love, and wrote this story.
On the day we have scheduled to take her photo, Nita is rushed to the hospital. As it turns out, her sudden illness is serious and she gets worse. Several weeks later, death draws near and the Little Sisters watch and pray at her bedside. Anita gives her soul back to God in peace and joy. Her daughter, the Little Sisters and the Rev. Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, Rector of the Basilica are at her side when she passes.
“I am confident,” said Msgr. Rossi “as she closed her eyes she opened to see Gods face.”
Here is the article resulting from our time together. Perhaps some will find inspiration in it and Anita’s vitality and wonderful civility, her work in the interest of the public and years of volunteer service.
Anita Reaves (“Nita”) answered the call to serve others 23 years ago by becoming a volunteer at The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “I love meeting the people from all over the world that visit the Shrine,” she says “especially the young children who are just so smart.” She shares that it was her grandmother’s words that inspired her to volunteer, “Always she’d talk to me about helping others, giving bread, whatever, all with a goal of helping other people.”
Nita – who turned 90 years young on February 10 – has given thousands of tours and acquired a wonderful wealth of information over the ensuing years. Amazingly, she still volunteers and puts her vast knowledge to good use at the shrine’s information desk Monday and Friday, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
“Nita is simply extraordinary,” says Sr. Jeanne Véronique, “she leaves very early in the morning to go to the shrine and yet never complains.” “In fact,” continues Sr. Jeanne Véronique, “Nita considers herself on-call and reports to ‘work’ whenever she is needed.”
With nearly one million people visiting the Basilica, each year you can bet Nita stays busy welcoming individuals, families, and groups, answering questions and offering suggestions. When asked if she thinks of slowing down, she responds with a definite “maybe, eventually, I guess. I’ll retire someday but I think older people should keep active, just get up and go out… it really helps you.” Nita is living proof that it does. It isn’t any wonder that Nita received the 2004 President’s Volunteer Service Award – at the age of 82 years – for her work as a health aide working with Senior Citizens.
Nita was born in Mississippi in 1922 and lived for a time in West Virginia where she worked at Charlestown General Hospital and took nursing courses. “Unfortunately,” she says, “I wasn’t allowed to become a nurse back then because I was black.” So still in her twenties, Nita came to Washington, D.C. to look for work and stayed. Nearly 70 years a resident of the D. C. Metro area, she has always worked in the interest of the public – as a crossing guard, a corrections officer, a health aide and even as a reserve Metropolitan Police Officer.
As Resident here at our home since January 2010, Anita says, “everybody is so nice” and then offers to let me see the view from her window. Behold it is one of the best views in town – overlooking the John Paul II Center, the Basilica in the distance. “I think Msgr. Rossi (Rector of the National Shrine) likes me living here,” she jokes good-naturedly “so that I can be close to work.”
Located in Washington, D.C., and yes, just a “short walk” up the street from the Jeanne Jugan Residence, the Basilica is renowned for its architecture, sacred art and rich Catholic history and heritage. Envisioned as a gift from American Catholics to represent the devotion to Mary of all peoples – it has over 70 chapels and oratories, dedicated by various ethnic groups and religious communities. Nita’s favorite from among them is Our Lady of Guadalupe.
So if, you find yourself inspired to visit the Basilica be sure to look for our beloved Nita at one of the information desks and be sure to say “Hello.”
Join Us in Prayer
God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.
Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.
In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.