The bell tolled to mourn the dead yesterday as two gray caskets arrived by hearse at the 90-acre estate of the Benedictine order in rural Prince William County.
As two dozens nuns gathered solemnly, the bodies of Sister Adrian Elizabeth Muldowney and Sister Kathleen Kelly were wheeled into a small, brightly painted reception room.
The two women, both 52, had left the order's stately "mother house" 24 hours earlier, setting out by car for Richmond after an Easter weekend retreat. They died shortly afterward in a fiery collision with a truck 14 miles south of Warrenton.
"In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame," read the Rev. Blaz Strittmatter, the leader of yesterday's brief ceremony, as lay friends of the two women wept. The assembled nuns repeated the words, showing no outward sign of emotion.
"We know that nothing happens without God's providence, which is why we can be so calm and accepting," said Sister Andrea Verchuck, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, afterward. "Death, even though shocking, shows that a person's task on earth has been completed and that the Lord has taken her away."
The deaths were the sixth and seventh in six months at the heavily traveled intersection of Rtes. 17 and 28 in Fauquier County. The women were killed as they tried to turn left onto Rte. 17, according to police.
Virginia state trooper R. R. Rinker yesterday called the intersection "one of the best in the county. I don't know why there are so many accidents there. It's a mystery to me," he said.
The driver of the tractor-trailer involved in the collision, Curtis T. Lowery, 52, of Florence, S.C., was treated for a broken rib and abrasions at Faquier Hospital and released. He will not be charged in connection with the accident, Rinker said.
Muldowney, whose brother, the Rev. James Muldowney, officiates at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Annandale, was the school's librarian and assistant principal. Kelly, who taught at Catholic elementary schools in Fairfax, Arlington and Manassas before moving to Richmond, was a member of St. Gertrude's faculty.
Rosemarie Ficcio, a former nun, said yesterday that when she decided to leave the Benedictine order 10 years ago, Kelly "argued with me as forcefully and angrily as she could. But when I made my decision, she stuck by me.
"We lived together as nuns for 22 years and got so close we knew what the other was thinking before anyone had said a word."
Bishop Thomas Jerome Welsh of Arlington will say a mass of the resurrection today for the two nuns. Muldowney and Kelly will be buried near each other at a small cemetery in Bristow, southwest of Manassas.