A seventy-four year ministry of service spans generations and brings a lifetime of memories…
Our vocation calls.
Be, modest, gentle, holy.
Our goal is sublime. (The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston Maxim1)
…a daily practice of Sister Mary F. Shea, CSJ
Born on May 11, 1926 in Rockland, Massachusetts, Sister Mary F. Shea, CSJ was one of three children born to Marjorie and James T. Shea, whom she attributes as major influences in her life. Her siblings, now deceased, included a brother James and sister Frances. Despite growing up during the depression, Sister Mary describes her family atmosphere as happy and focused on gratitude for what they had during those lean times, a philosophy that Sister Mary follows to this day. After graduating from Rockland High School, young Mary as a Novice attended Regis College, earning an AB in Education.
Spirituality was a big part of Sister Mary’s family life, having had three cousins who were Maryknoll missionaries. Her cousin Bishop Francis Xavier Ford was one of the first Maryknoll missionaries in China and was eventually martyred in a Chinese prison for his Christianity. Another cousin, Bishop Joseph W. Regan, was also imprisoned in China and released at the conclusion of World War II, later serving as a missionary to the Philippines. Sister Mary’s cousin Sister Rita was imprisoned as a missionary in Taiwan and also released after the war. It’s no wonder that when Mary contemplated the religious life, she first aspired to become a Maryknoll sister. However, life as a Maryknoll sister was not to be. With encouragement from her pastor at Holy Family Church, Rockland, Mary was asked to consider the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Father Cassidy was impressed by the good works of the Sisters in the Rockland community and the love they displayed for God and Church. This influence led Mary to join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston in 1943. She will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in 2018.
Sister Mary’s many ministries have included working with children, teens, service men and women and healthcare for the elderly. She began her ministry as a first grade teacher at St. Catherine’s in Somerville and went on to serve at various Catholic parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Boston over the next fifteen years. She feels that her greatest reward from this ministry came from seeing her students grow and learn each day.
After concluding her teaching ministry, over the next ten years Sister Mary served as Director of the Teen Center at the Family Counseling Center in Charlestown. Working as a team member with Jack Sheehan, a former school counselor, Sister Mary felt that their fulfillment came from realizing the extent of their influence on the lives and futures of these at-risk teens. Unfortunately, a loss of funding ended Sister Mary’s ministry at the Teen Center.
Moved by her sense of patriotism, Sister Mary then accepted a position as Hospitality and Resources Co-ordinator at the Armed Forces YMCA in Charlestown, known today as Constitution Inn.
At the time, this was the only facility providing hospitality and resource services to members of the Armed Forces nationwide. At the Armed Forces YMCA, Sister Mary would welcome Naval service men and women from ships docked in the area, including the USS Trippe, USS Perry and USS Clark as well as service men and women serving on the USS Constitution. She would help them find small jobs to supplement the pay checks being sent to their families and would find housing for service family members when they visited Boston. Sister Mary describes the many service men and women she met as “one big family caring for each other.”
Retirement from her 15-year ministry with the Armed Forces YMCA was not the end of her ministry of service. For the next ten years, Sister Mary provided home care services to elderly residents in the East Boston, South Boston and Chelsea communities. Her time working with seniors provokes many fond memories. In fact, Sister Mary feels she herself received so much more than she gave to her ministry of service to the elderly.
Concluding her CSJ ministry of service following a one-year assignment as a librarian at the Immaculate Conception School in Revere, Sister Mary began preparation for a long-anticipated retirement. She was one of the first to make a reservation at St. Joseph’s Hall for retired Sisters of St. Joseph, adjacent to Bethany Health Care Center, where she lived independently for the next eleven years.
In 2016, due to some health challenges, Sister Mary became a resident at Bethany Health Care Center, a Sponsored Ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, located in Framingham. Despite this short period of time, she will tell you that she loves living here and has nothing but praise for the caring and loving staff. Daily social interactions with other residents are the highlight of her day and she won’t hesitate to tell you that “We are all family. If people could get to know Bethany, the way it is and the loving care we receive, it would make a difference in the attitudes of how nursing homes are perceived.”
At age ninety-one, Sister Mary F. Shea, CSJ is still able to enjoy many of her favorite pastimes, including going out to lunch, listening to music and her audiobooks, watching movies and reminiscing about her favorite musical, Hello, Dolly!
In retrospect, Sister Mary is grateful to the Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston which has enabled her to carry out her varied ministries over the past seventy-four years. She is especially grateful for the loving and supportive Community friendships that were formed during these years and still exist today.
Excerpted with permission from Bethany Health Care Center, December 2017 Newsletter. Photography: Sister Anne Marie Garrity, CSJ