Nuns yield to pleas for tree Rockefeller Center officials get spruce after years of asking


MENDHAM, N.J. -- Every few years since 1984, the suitors from Rockefeller Center came calling, and every time, the nuns demurred.

They were flattered. But they were not going to part with the towering, perfectly sculptured evergreen that had stood by the front door to their convent for more than half a century, blessing them with shade in summer and solace in winter.

Then they grew worried. The tree was getting older, taller, which rendered it more vulnerable to elements and ailments. The nuns wanted an end for it more glorious than lightning or rot.

So, gardeners from Rockefeller Center plan to cut it down tomorrow. It will be resurrected Wednesday in the middle of Manhattan, about 30 miles and a world apart from this bucolic burg.

"When I think of it not being here, I feel emptiness," Sister Mary Edward Spohrer said last week as workers trussed the branches of the tree, the first step in its journey toward fleeting fame.

Her tears came even then. "At least," she said, "it will have a second life in the city."

The Norway spruce, between 72 and 75 feet tall, will be the 63rd evergreen to adorn Rockefeller Center during a holiday season, but perhaps none before it was courted so assiduously by center officials.

The nuns, from the Sisters of Christian Charity, said that they were confident in their decision to give up the tree, but had also come to realize more than ever before how much it meant to them.

"You know how it is that you never appreciate something until you're about to lose it?" said Sister Florence Henderson, 74, who followed an introduction of herself with an assurance that she is not a member of the Brady Bunch. "Now I look at it and say, 'Oh, wow, you are a beautiful tree.' "

A few weeks ago, the nuns held a ceremony to bless it. They sprinkled holy water on it, sang "O, Christmas Tree" ("Tannenbaum") and recited a prayer written by two of the nuns.

The men who find trees for Rockefeller Center said they had waited more patiently for this one than for any other they could recall.

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