SISTER BARBARA MURPHY
The first Daughter of Charity to die in the Province of the West after its erection on January 4, 1969 was Sister Barbara Murphy. Sister Rose Collins, Visitatrix, and Sister Mary William Vinet, Councillor, arrived in the new Province on February 8, 1969, just in time to be present at Sister’s deathbed and funeral. It would seem that Sister Barbara terminated her worn-out life on earth at that particular time so she could aid and share more fully from her place in heaven in the establishment and formation of the new Province.
Her parents Edward Murphy and Catherine McGovern were both Irish immigrants. They settled in the farming area of Cienage, California, located about sixty-five miles south of San Francisco. The Lord blessed this happy union with ten children, one of whom was Margaret Ann (“Maggie”), born on August 10, 1881.
When Mr. Murphy died unexpectedly, Mrs. Murphy was left with the children and the responsibility of the farm. To keep the farm going smoothly, each child had special chores to perform. Maggie assisted in the plowing of the fields and was as happy running the tractor as she was dancing at the village hall.
The nearest school in the vicinity was located in Hollister, a small town within walking distance of the Murphy home. So it was to Sacred Heart School, conducted by the Daughters of Charity, that Maggie along with her brothers and sisters trudged every day, rain or shine. When the eighth grade was completed in those days, one was considered a well-educated person, but Maggie was not content with just eight years of school. Therefore, she continued and completed her education at Thompson’s Business College in San Jose. Engaged as a teacher in one of the schools in Benito or Monterey counties, Maggie saddled her horse and took off from her home every morning.
After a few years of teaching, Maggie became interested in the nursing profession and entered O’Connor School of Nursing, San Jose, California. The seed of her vocation, no doubt, had been planted in her heart during grade school years, but it was not until she began her nurse’s training that the call of the Lord to follow Him as a Daughter of Charity became loud and clear. Maggie kept those desires in her heart and pondered them, telling no one of her intentions except a few members of the family. After she had provided sufficient funds for her mother’s needs, she considered herself free to answer the Lord’s invitation to work in His vineyard.
Members of her family did not have the same feeling about the situation, however; they thought it was very unwise for one who had an excellent position, one who was so jolly, happy and lovable to make such a “foolish” decision. Maggie’s answer to them was very simple and to the point: “The Lord wants me to give myself to Him; therefore, I intend to do what He wishes.”
SISTER HELEN HARRINGTON
Marie Catherine Harrington was born on October 6, 1897 in Los Angeles. Her father, James Mennis Harrington, came from Kenneigh, County Cork, Ireland; her mother, Ellen Duff, was from Redwood City, California. Marie was the oldest of five girls. Her mother died three weeks after the birth of her last child. An aunt took the two youngest children into her home. Her father tried to keep the three oldest, but eventually he had to confide them to the care of the Sisters at Mount St. Joseph in San Francisco. Little did they suspect then that three of the Harrington girls would become Daughters of Charity: Sister Helen in 1916; Sister Marguerite in 1920; and Sister Aileen in 1927.
Marie attended St. Vincent High School, San Francisco, where she grew to love the Daughters. After her graduation in 1915, she worked for a time as a bookkeeper and stenographer before making her decision to request entrance into the Community. Having been received, Marie began her postulatum at Sacred Heart School in Hollister, California late in April, 1916. In early September of the same year she traveled with Sister Teresa Hill to the Seminary in St. Louis. Sister Helen felt her “band” was “unique and special,” and the notes she left behind tell us why:
“We were the first band of postulants to be received at the new Marillac Seminary. Sister Laurentia Walsh had been the last postulant to receive the Seminary dress at St. Vincent’s Institution, where the Seminary had been located since 1909. Then I was privileged to be the first postulant to receive the Seminary dress in the Marillac Seminary. Sister Gertrude Foley, then Sister-in-office, clothed me, and I was so happy! Five other members of our “band” arrived a few days later. They were: Sisters Jane Frances Bohm, Mercedes Jeffery, Hilary Ross, Damian Steber, and Laurentia Walsh, who had received the Seminary dress earlier at St. Vincent’s.
Having completed her Seminary, Sister Helen’s first mission was St. Vincent School in Mobile, Alabama, where she taught in the grade school and commercial school from 1917 until 1928. The next 34 years (1928-1962) found her as Sister Servant and teacher in five different schools: St. Thomas, Long Beach; St. Patrick, St. Louis; St. Joseph, White Church; St. Patrick, La Salle; and St. Mary, West Plains. In summer classes at DePaul University, Chicago, Sister Helen earned her Ph.D. in English and History in 1935.
In 1962 Sister Helen was missioned back to the Deep South and named Principal of St. Stephen’s Grade School in New Orleans. Two years later she returned to teach again at St. Thomas School, Long Beach, Mississippi, which had been her first mission as Sister Servant.
But the division of the Provinces was nearing, so the school year 1968-69 brought Sister Helen to Our Lady of Talpa School in Los Angeles, her birthplace. A Sister who was her companion for five years in the City of the Angels writes:
“We arrived at Our Lady of Talpa in the fall of 1968. Sister Helen was already 71 years old, but she was blessed with remarkable vigor and good health. Her duties were numerous and varied: Vice-Principal, Religion teacher, Office work and tutoring. I remember her taking my fourth graders for their times-tables. A child slow in math might have one hour with a government-paid specialist in math, a classroom math lesson and then private practice with Sister Helen. This “triple whammy” usually worked, but the children preferred Sister Helen’s spiced-up drills which often offered games and prizes. What an incentive to work harder!”
The Pastoral Care Department at Mary’s Help Hospital in Daly City claimed Sister Helen’s generous labors in June, 1974. Here she served for the next eight years in her gracious, caring and welcoming way. In 1982 at the age of 85, it was a cross for Sister Helen to give up her much-loved duty in Spiritual Care at Mary’s Help, but she accepted her limitations. As in everything else she had done throughout the years of her Community life, she responded in a spirit of faith to her new Apostolate of Prayer at Seton Infirmary, Los Angeles.
Found in a 4x6 notebook written in her beautiful handwriting, there are eleven pages with what Sister Helen entitled “Random Thoughts.” In words that were her own, the last handwritten page seems to summarize Sister Helen’s life, her manner of living and of going to God, as she peacefully died on September 22, 1984:
“There may be few Christians in this world, but these are called to change the world. A very little salt gives flavor to a large beef roast; a little yeast causes an entire dough to rise; a small flashlight is a godsend for people in total darkness! Our Lord tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If w share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed, and do other works of mercy, the world will see our light and follow it to the glory of God.”
SISTER URSULA PETERNEL
Sister Ursula Peternel was one who never sought publicity but whose love and devotion to the Poor and needy was well known. It is significant that a person as active and concerned with helping others was equally devoted to prayer. The day after her death, the Visalia, California TIMES-DELTA flashed its headlines in big, bold print: COUNTY’S POOR LOSE THEIR MOTHER TERESA.
Mary Peternel was born in Austria-Hungary in 1910. She had one brother, Joseph, and one sister who later became “Sister Victoria” as a Daughter of Charity. When Mary was 15 years of age, John and Ursula Peternel moved to the United States and settled in Price, Utah. It seems an act of Divine Providence that in 1927 the Daughters of Charity opened Notre Dame School in Price and Mary became acquainted with them. Two years later, she applied for entrance into the Community and was accepted.
Mary was sent to postulate at Guardian Angel Settlement, St. Louis. Her Seminary was made at Marillac, where she received the Habit as “Sister Ursula” in October, 1930. Allen Memorial Home in Mobile, Alabama, was her first mission. She spent 20 years there, caring for infants and toddlers. Sister Ursula was then missioned to De Paul Settlement, Chicago, in 1950. This enabled her to attend DePaul University to work toward her B.A. in Sociology, which she successfully completed in 1953. During her 17 years on duty at the Settlement, Sister served in day care, after-school activities and the kitchen. She was appointed Sister Servant from 1965-67.
Early in 1967 Sister Ursula was sent to reside at St. Joseph Hospital while pursuing full-time study in the Graduate School of Social Work at Loyola University. She completed her M.S.W. the following year and was named to begin a new work in the Far West. The Del Rey, California mission in the Fresno Diocese, originally called Catholic Social Service of Fresno, was initiated in response to the unmet needs of Mexican-American farm workers and undocumented laborers in that area. It was planned as a mobile service with three Sisters living in a “trailer-convent” and working out of two other trailers.
The new mission was opened September 8, 1968. It was the last of the California Houses to be established by the Daughters of the old Western Province in St. Louis before the new Province of the West was founded on January 4, 1969. The first three members of the Community in Del Rey were Sister Ursula Peternel, Sister Kathleen Miles and Sister Mary Ellen Creedon. Sister Ursula served as Sister Servant from 1969-71, when she began full-time work at the Office of Catholic Social Service in Visalia, California.
By 1974, Father Joseph Balker became the pastor of Sacred Heart, Exeter. He offered to move the trailers onto the St. Anthony of Egypt church grounds in Farmersville, the mission of Exeter. This allowed the staff of the Rural Community Services to begin working in that parish. Sister Mary Frances Doolan, Sister Servant, arrived in July, 1975 with Sister Ursula Peternel and Sister Bernadette Vasquez, eager to begin pastoral ministry.
Meanwhile, Sister Ursula continued as the Director of Catholic Social Service in Visalia and by 1984 her Office had added emergency assistance in food, clothing and referrals, fund raising, and distribution center for Government commodities to its always available counseling and advocacy services.
Sister Ursula often appeared in Tulare County courts to give background or to suggest ways to help troubled families. According to Attorney George Thurlow, who nominated her for the 1981 Liberty Bell Award: “She was very much concerned; she would speak in such tones that you’d better listen!” Superior Court Judge N.O. Bradley added: “Sister Ursula would speak up at a hearing and give us a new insight. It was something that we considered in our decisions; we just couldn’t overlook her sincerity.”
Robert Felts, a board member at Catholic Social Services, had this to offer:
“Sister Ursula just worked herself to death. She had survived open-heart surgery in 1979 and a broken hip in 1983. However, her poor must always be served, regardless of the cost. She had been feverishly putting out food baskets and toys for those in need until the last minute on Christmas Eve. Two days later, the strain took its toll. Sister Ursula’s body was weary, but her spirit never faltered.”
Sister Katie Quinn, Sister Servant in Farmersville at the time of Sister Ursula’s death, writes of Sister last days in 1984:
“It became obvious that Sister had suffered another heart attack, but she wanted to make it through Christmas. Our trying to get her to see the doctor or take a little rest met with a firm ‘Don’t push me!’ Sometimes into the evenings Sister made loaves of bread and jars of jelly for friends. It was her way of expressing her love.”
According to Sister Kenneth’s account, both she and Sister Carol Padilla, their companion, were with Sister Ursula when she died on the morning of December 27. Following the news of Sister Ursula’s death, many tributes were offered to Sister’s selfless, devoted service to the Poor. Bishop Roger Mahony of Stockton (now Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles) wrote to Sister Visitatrix on December 31, 1984:
“Sister Ursula was a unique and dynamic Religious, and her leadership in the Diocese was without parallel. Her great love for the poor, her marvelous vision and her limitless energies were special gifts for the peoples of Tulare County and beyond. Her courage in advocacy for the poor, the powerless and the voiceless was of great importance. She was able to shape the policies of institutions and government programs to a better understanding and responsiveness to poor people.”
Within a year of her death, Sister Ursula’s picture appeared on a big sign reading “SOUP’S ON!” was hung on the wall at the new SISTER URSULA’S KITCHEN, which opened on April 15, 1985. The THRIFT STORE soon followed in November, 1985.
The Visalia TIMES-DELTA reported:
“Sister Katie Quinn of Catholic Social Services in Visalia presided over the stove on the opening day of Sister Ursula’s Kitchen, which was setting up to serve a first meal of burritos, rice and lettuce. It was launched in memory of Sister Ursula Peternel, the former head of Catholic Social Services who died on December 27. 1984, and who had dreamed of just such a kitchen for the poor.”
The G.I. Forum and the Mexican-American Political Association publicly honored Sister Ursula for her contributions to the Hispanic community. Over the years she had received many other awards, including the Visalia and Farmersville “Woman of the Year” and the Liberty Bell Award given by the legal community. Sister Ursula put those plaques away and never mentioned them again. They are now housed in the Archives.
SISTER ANNE CASEY
Born in San Francisco on December 30, 1894, Sister Anne Casey remained loyal to her birthplace wherever she traveled. She cherished her City by the Bay and worked diligently to convince others of its charm. Sister Eleanor Larson remembers that it wasn’t just the Golden Gate that captured Sister’s heart, it was also the home team.
“She enjoyed professional sports, especially baseball. Many a game she and I watched together on television. Being from San Francisco, she was a Giants fan, while I being from Los Angeles was a Dodger fan. I think I finally became a Giants fan, at least outwardly.”
Anne Veronica Casey was the daughter of Michael Casey and Anne Rogerson, both Irish immigrants. She commenced her postulancy in February 1915 at Mullanphy Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. She received the Holy Habit on March 3, 1916 and took her Holy Vows on July 19, 1920. She was first missioned to St. Vincent School in Keokuk, Iowa. By 1933, she received her B.A. in English with a minor in History from De Paul University, and was missioned to St. Vincent’s High School in her beloved San Francisco.
In 1945, Sister Anne was missioned to St Stephen’s School in New Orleans. Sister Ellen Van Zandt gives thanks to Sister Anne for saying the right words at the right time.
“During my second year of high school, I had to return to St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage to live. During my senior year I wanted to petition to join the Community, but was torn as to whether it would be through the Orphanage or St. Stephen School. But I felt free enough to talk it over with Sister Anne, telling her that the St. Elizabeth Sisters would be crushed but that I didn’t also want to hurt the School Sisters. She understood and told me to go ahead and enter through St. Elizabeth’s. Later during the summer and fall of 1949, the Community kept telling me to wait a little longer to enter. By October, I went to see Sister Anne again and asked her what I should do, as waiting for an answer was getting hard. I told her that I was having a good time working and making new friends, and was beginning to question my decision. She told me that I should do as she had done: ‘Margaret, make up your mind and say “I am going now,” or not, and stick to your decision one way or another.’ I do not remember if I went to the Orphanage Sisters and pushed for an answer or if Sister Anne did some talking, but I was gone to St. Louis by December 8.”
In 1951, Sister Anne traveled back to California, where she was the first Sister Servant of Maryvale, located in Rosemead. By 1957, she was missioned to St. Elizabeth’s in New Orleans. For three years, Sister Anne worked with the girls at St. Elizabeth’s until she was missioned to Marian School in Montebello, California. Six years passed before she was called back to the City of St. Francis, where she served as Assistant Principal and Sister Servant at Cathedral High School.
The years of hard work and dedication at both Maryvale and St. Elizabeth’s were not forgotten when she finally headed home. Sister Florence Urbine pays tribute to the spirited Sister.
“Sister Anne Casey was a dynamic educator and always receptive to the needs of others. The Community asked much of Sister Anne, and she gave willingly. Sister’s work in education did not end with transfer to the field of social welfare. Her girls, long after their graduation, remembered their experience at St. Elizabeth’s in New Orleans and at Maryvale in Rosemead.”
Sister Antoinette Mateos taught at Cathedral High School in San Francisco when Sister Anne arrived in 1966. Her earliest memories include the following impressions:
“From the earliest days, I recall Sister Anne as a stately figure…ready to listen, to support and to encourage any Sister who approached her (myself included) with anything regarding our life and duties on our Mission whether it be teaching, prayer related, or just anything that needed to be talked over. Sister Anne had a great wealth of experience and we did not hesitate to approach her even before going to the Sister in charge. We had great confidence in her direction and prayers.”
In 1969, Sister Anne was missioned to Mary’s Help Hospital in Daly City, where she served as Clerical Assistant and Patient Visitor. Sister William Eileen Dunn became acquainted with Sister Anne when they both worked at the hospital. She observed the following about her companion:
“A Daughter of Charity of great stature with a great sense of affability and joyfulness. Her joyful presence/witness was contagious. People in the hospital liked to be around her. She made them feel good. Despite limitations of the aging process, she still manifested her graciousness and joyfulness in her dealing with others. She was always willing to give a helpful hand to anyone she met. Devoted to duty, prayer and community life, she was a great conversationalist and she truly loved people and loved to be around them. She was a real people person.”
One of Sister’s joys in later life was working in the gift shop with her sister Mary Riordan, who was a volunteer at the hospital. Sister Eileen Harrington recalls seeing the siblings together:
“Sister Anne visited patients at the hospital in her active days, and they loved her. Her sister, Mary, was a volunteer at the hospital in charge of the gift shop. Sister Anne was a help to Mary in that work also. Mary and Sister Anne had some happy days together.”
In 1983, Mary’s Help was named Seton Medical Center in honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. At that time, Sister Alice Mary Devine resided with Sister Anne at Seton. She recalls those days:
“Sister was an avid reader. When someone remarked this, she said she had to read while she could because the doctor told her she would lose her sight. When Sister got to where she could no longer see, she would ask one of us to read the next day’s meditation so that she could go to sleep with a good thought. Sister was very prayerful having been a school teacher. She was also an avid sports fan. I was very happy to have lived with Sister."
As Sister Anne’s hearing and sight failed, she was missioned first to Seton Infirmary in Los Angeles in 1981, and ultimately to Labouré Residence in Los Altos Hills in 1984. A year later, as her health continued to decline, she died on December 11, 1985 and was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos.
For those who had the privilege of knowing Sister Anne Casey, one thing is for sure. Her heart that once belonged to San Francisco now belongs to her God in heaven, where she rests peacefully in the Love and Light of her life.
SISTER FRANCES McCARTHY
Sister Frances McCarthy was beautiful inside and out. While her personality sparkled with high-spirited energy and laughter, her inner being radiated peace and tranquility. From the day she received the Holy Habit on April 22, 1931 until her last day on November 16, 1986, she was a role model to all who were honored to cross her path.
Born in San Francisco on July 22, 1912, Mary Frances McCarthy experienced the best in family, which included two brothers and two sisters, and also the best in parish life. Her parents, Timothy McCarthy and Catherine Carey, both immigrants from County Cork, Ireland, were active members of All Hallows Parish. Growing up in an environment that nourished a life of service, Mary Frances took the encouragement to heart.
Determined to become a Daughter of Charity, she kept her secret under wraps. She graduated from St. Vincent High School in San Francisco in 1929 and then immediately followed her dream. She was accepted into the Daughters of Charity and began her postulancy in January, 1930, at Sacred Heart School in Hollister, California. Five years later, she made her vows for the first time on July 2, 1935. She was first missioned to the Los Angeles Orphan Asylum, which later became Maryvale in Rosemead, California. Sister Claire Roach, who was a sixth grade student at the facility at that time, remembers the effect young Sister Frances had on her:
“I first saw Sister Frances when she and another Sister were touring the house at Boyle Heights and visited our sixth grade classroom. Childlike, I hoped ‘the young, pretty one’ would be our new permanent Sister…She guided and encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a Daughter of Charity. On the back of a holy card she had typed: ‘Oh my good Jesus, be thou my spouse, my only love. Rather let me die than ever abandon my holy vocation.’ She instructed me to say this prayer every time I passed a crucifix. This I did fervently from the ripe old age of fourteen!”
Sister Claire goes on to write about the difficulties the young Sister faced during the years of her first mission as Housemother and Teacher:
“Sister Frances had a very difficult adjustment to make, considering her youth and sensitivity. She was only eighteen years old, unaccustomed to governing crowds of chattering, fun-loving and willful little girls. Also, she took to heart everyone’s hurts. It pained her to witness unkindness among the children, or to find a child crying because of an unpleasant family situation.”
Sister Mary Genevieve Moonier also recalls the hardships Sister suffered during that time:
“She was the angel, as the Sister in charge of the children was called in those days. She had a large number of children, over one hundred, I believe, to take to meals, put to bed. She was only about eighteen years old and inexperienced with caring for children. Sister used to sit on the steps at night and cry after she got them to bed. She kept telling herself she would just have to write to Superiors at Marillac that she would have to go home. Well, she never seemed to get the time to write the letter. Add to this Sister’s trying to fit into a community of Sisters of all ages, mostly separated from her by a generation or two. Perhaps the gift of prayer was thrust upon her, for she needed to pray – lots – to survive.”
Perhaps the gift of prayer was thrust upon her, but from all accounts, embracing prayer was a gift Sister Frances sustained from birth. Sister Claire writes eloquently of Sister’s devotion to and faith in prayer throughout her life:
“Prayer was her habitual mode. Everything Sister did was accompanied by prayer. What a sublime example to girls whose lives had been frazzled by abandonment, or the death, divorce, or chronic illness of their parents. When Sister prayed in the chapel in our presence we could pray with her in silence, for her lips carefully formed every word. We watched her, fascinated by her total absorption in God’s presence. During the seven years that we worked together at Boyle Heights a bond was formed, which years of separation and even death cannot sever. Beyond a doubt, Sister Frances’ prayers have sustained me all my life.”
Sister Emily Bourg also reminisces about the depth of Sister’s prayer life:
“There is no doubt that Sister Frances radiated her closeness to God. It was an inspiration to me to watch her at prayer, and wish that I could come to know her secret.”
Sister Mary Vincent Rotella shares memories about her compassionate listening and devotion to the Rosary:
“Sr. Frances McCarthy was a very unusual, unique and a real Daughter of Charity. Sister Margaret Mary Cox once said: Sister Frances is ‘pure gold’ and this title always has stuck to her for many years. Sister Frances was ever ready to listen to a Sister no matter how busy she was, being the Administrator and Sister Servant at the time. Once I was having a problem with a girl in my group and I wanted some direction on how to handle the girl. I went to Sister Frances to blow off steam and to tell her I was really frustrated. Sister Frances said to me, Sister, have you said your Rosary yet? I said, no, Sister, and she said let’s walk around and say it together. We did, and when we reached the end, I had calmed down, to the extent that when Sister Frances said, now what about the girl? I said, oh nothing, we can forget it for now. I think I can handle her. Sister Frances said, well, now be sure to call me if you can’t.”
While missioned in Los Angeles, Sister also prayed her way through Mount St. Mary’s, where she received her B.A. in English, History and Education. By 1969, with the opening of the Province of the West, Sister was missioned to Seton Provincial House in San Jose, Santa Clara, and, finally, Los Altos Hills as a member of the First Council. From 1981 to 1986, she served as Sister Servant in Pastoral Care at Mary’s Help Hospital in Daly City, California.
On October 31, 1986, Sister Mary Frances was enjoying a Halloween party at Labouré Residence, where she had been missioned earlier that year. A short time later, on Friday, November 7, she was admitted to Seton Medical Center with shortness of breath and chest pain resulting from arthritis of the sternum. Her condition continued to worsen as her heartbeats became irregular. On November 16, death claimed the Sister known as “pure gold.”
Even at the end of her life, she displayed what Sister Rose Collins called “a strange combination of quick action and deliberation.” As her breathing became more and more labored, she tossed and turned in agitation. With dedicated members of her Community surrounding her bed, Sister Frances McCarthy then took control as she quickly removed her oxygen mask. Calmly and deliberately, she took her last breath and flew ever so freely into the arms of her Beloved.