As a volunteer archivist at the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, "Sister Veronica," spent 17 years researching the lives of every person who had received the nation's highest military honor.
"Sister Veronica was very special to me and to all the recipients," said Walter J. Marm, who had been a first lieutenant in the Army when he was honored for leading his platoon in the First Cavalry, airborne division, through intense fire in Vietnam's la Drang Valley in November 1965.
Marm, who was a colonel when he retired from the Army in 1995, said he recalled visiting Sister Veronica at the Freedoms Foundation and at Camilla Hall, the convent home for sick and aging sisters from her religious community.
"She was like a stepmother to us," he told the gathering. "Any time we had a concern or a problem we could call on her for advice and assistance, and many of us did."
Sister Veronica devoted her life to the Medal of Honor project when she retired after 50 years of teaching government and history and coaching debate teams.
She was 93 when she died Nov. 4, 2002, and was buried at Immaculata Cemetery adjacent to Camilla Hall. She had turned down burial at Arlington National Cemetery to remain with members of her religious community.
Sister Marie Lareine Spain, who joined the order after serving four years as a lieutenant in the Waves, the U.S. Navy's women's division during World War II, offered a prayer Saturday paying tribute to heroism and service.
"We thank you for those who keep alive the memory of our heroes," she said, "especially Sister Maria Veronica."
More than 20 nuns residing at Camilla Hall attended the ceremony along with State Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman (D., Chester), who has mobilized support for the Freedoms Foundation's Medal of Honor Grove in Phoenixville.
A bagpiper from the Irish Thunder Pipes Band closed the program with "Amazing Grace."
The six Medal of Honor winners had traveled from Maryland, Florida, Illinois, New York, and North and South Carolina to participate in the first fund-raiser for the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove. The nonprofit was created recently to maintain and upgrade the 52-acre woodland park the Freedoms Foundation created to honor Medal of Honor recipients.
Each state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have one-acre plots in what the Friends group calls "a living memorial to the 3,458 recipients of our nation's highest military decoration."
Sister Veronica was born Angela M. Keane to Irish immigrant parents. She grew up in Philadelphia's Harrowgate section and entered the convent when she was 18.
During her long teaching career, her assignments included John W. Hallahan High School, a Catholic girls' school in Center City. When she left the classroom at 70, she turned her attention to the Medal of Honor project.
Sister Veronica found photographs and sketches of medal recipients, completed their biographies and created handwritten citations to accompany each medal. Her work fills more than 90 volumes at the Freedoms Foundation.
When she was asked in 1979 why she spent her days collecting information about medal recipients, she replied: "I have always been a woman with deep religious convictions. I hate the idea of war . . . but I love the men who have given me the privilege of worshiping my God as I please."
In an 1986 Inquirer interview, Sister Veronica called her medal project "a labor of love." "To me," she said, "they're all heroes."
The Medal of Honor was established by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Regulations call for the president to award it on behalf of Congress to members of the military for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."
The medals often are granted posthumously.
A few hours after the graveside ceremony, 140 people attended a $500-a-plate dinner at the Freedoms Foundation to raise money for the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove for grove maintenance and improvements.
An e-mail sent to Friends members about the day's events said: "No celebration would be complete without remembering Sister Maria Veronica, I.H.M., and her dedication to the Medal of Honor recipients."
Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at email@example.com.