Sister M. Stephanie (Anne Rita) Vigilante was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 23, 1914. She was one of the oldest of twelve children who blessed her Italian born parents. She first felt drawn to religious life as a very young woman, but friends, school, and the thought of a career shoved the thought into the back of her mind. There was also her care for her sister, Viola, who suffered from heart disease for whom she was prepared to sacrifice her possible religious vocation to continue that care. Viola, however, died at the age of 19. Anne graduated from college and worked in a number of positions (on a farm, saleslady in a fashionable 5th Avenue dress shop, nursemaid in Florida, teacher in public school, and several clerical jobs). Through all these years she was seeking happiness and peace of heart, but nothing satisfied her desire. She began going to daily Mass, praying a great deal to know God’s will. Her attraction to religious life reasserted itself, but she was not physically strong and prayed that if it was God’s will that she apply to the Trappistines, her health would become sufficient. A medical exam gave her a clean bill of health, so she sought out Father Owen of Our Lady of the Valley. He directed her to write to Glencairn in Ireland, since they were planning a U.S. foundation and letters passed back and forth. She did not tell her mother of her decision, because she knew her mother was strongly opposed to such a move. Anne was told to come to Ireland and knowing it was a now or never situation she bought a ticket, not telling her mother, and made her preparations. On the day of departure she wrote a letter to her mother and left it with someone to deliver after she was safely on her way, anticipating a terrible scene when the news broke. She entered Glencairn on January 16, 1948.
She received the habit on August 16, 1948. Only a little more than a year later, she left Glencairn with the founding group of Sisters for Mount Saint Mary's Abbey, Wrentham, traveling across the Atlantic by ship with Richard Cardinal Cushing, who took the Trappistines very much under his wing. She made her Temporary Profession on June 4, 1950 and changed stability with the group on November 10, 1950. Her Final Profession was on June 4, 1953 and Solemn Vows with 17 companions on June 28, 1957, when permission was given for the nuns.
Sister Stephanie was in charge of the wardrobe for many years. She also taught herself to mend books and made herself useful in many other ways in the library. In earlier years she used to do a bulletin board project for the community for the Feast of the Sacred Heart. She had special devotions to the Sacred Heart, Our Lady (especially under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), and the Infant of Prague. Her characteristic expression was, “Fiat!” and a close second was, “Whatever He wants!”
She loved being with the community and was devoted to the Divine Office, hating to miss an hour. She was very practical and direct. Whatever was happening, she wanted to be part of it. In many ways she was conservative and traditional, but she surprised us all when we were talking about the grille in church and she said, “Oh take it down!” If she said that, we knew it was safe to remove the barrier. Her last years were spent in the infirmary, gradually weakening and needing a wheelchair and oxygen. She was pleasant to all and always thanked in a word and prayer those who were privileged to care for her—not only the infirmary staff, but her “angel transport” and others.
Her last illness was gentle and peaceful. She smiled as long as she was conscious and her face grew beautiful and young. Her faith was always strong and so death held no fear for her. She died quietly on July 24, 2002 in the infirmary chapel, surrounded by half the community as her other sisters sang to completion the hour of Lauds. The dawn from on high had broken upon her.