OGDENSBURG — Three Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart from the Diocese of Ogdensburg are celebrating jubilees this year, totaling 210 years of service. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart community.
The three Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart are Sister Eileen Murray, originally from Ogdensburg, who is celebrating 80 years with the community; Sister Mary Teresa LaBrake, born in Winthrop, celebrating 70 years; and Sister Mary Lee Farrell, also originally from Ogdensburg, who is celebrating 60 years.
“By saying ‘yes’ to God’s call and living their vocations, these sisters brought their love of Jesus and the Gospel to many here in our diocese and around the country,” Bishop Terry R. LaValley said. “As we read their reflections of living in community and serving the church in schools, parishes and orphanages, we see terms like ‘blessed,’ ‘grateful’ and ‘rejoicing.’ These sisters found joy and graces in following God’s will in their lives. We thank them for their ‘yes’ to God’s call; we thank them for sharing their joy, gifts and talents; and we thank them for their service to our diocese and the Church.”
Sister Eileen Murray, 97, whose religious name is Sister Paul Francis, was educated by Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart after graduating from St. Mary’s Academy, Ogdensburg. Over her years in ministry, she was a teacher and principal at schools in Buffalo and Jackson Heights, NY; in Lowell, Mass.; and in Atlanta, Ga.
According to a recent publication by the Grey Nuns celebrating the community’s jubilarians, Sister Eileen’s “lessons and classroom experiments in middle school science are still remembered by many of her former students. She made science exciting!”
Sister Eileen’s ministry years from 1945-1960 at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Ogdensburg are dear to her heart because they provided her with the experience of mothering children. One man remembers her “calmly and lovingly” tending to the boys in her care. He always sends flowers to her on Mother’s Day.
From 1986 until her retirement in 2010, Sister Eileen engaged in a Ministry to the Elderly at St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Atlanta, bringing the Eucharist, friendship and encouragement to the homebound and to nursing home residents.
“In my 80 years as a Grey Nun, I have taught at almost every grade level,” Sister Eileen said. “At Holy Angels Academy, I taught young women the beauty of art, design, watercolor, oil and other mediums. These were blessed years. In my retirement at the Motherhouse, I was a willing chauffeur for many. Eventually, it was time to slow down. Now I spend time in prayer and reading. I muse often at how blessed we all are to be here and to have each other. Being a Grey Nun and sharing my everyday life for these 80 years is a blessing. I consider myself most fortunate.”
Sister Mary Teresa LaBrake, whose religious name is Sister Maria Goretti, grew up with 13 siblings on a 165-acre farm. She attended St. Mary’s School, Ogdensburg, a school that was staffed by the Grey Nuns.
After becoming a Grey Nun and spending several years teaching in elementary school, she volunteered to replace the principal at Immaculate Conception School in Eden, NY, on a temporary basis. This led to similar positions at St. Rose of Lima School in Buffalo, and Ogdensburg Catholic Central School. Sister Mary Teresa later became assistant superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Ogdensburg, and she was often on the road visiting from one school to another.
When her father became ill, she lived with and cared for him, all the while continuing her ministry. She found great fulfillment in her position as pastoral associate in the Cathedral Parish in Ogdensburg. There, her interaction with parishioners brought her great joy. Sister Mary Teresa also served for 10 years on the Board of Directors for Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center.
After moving to Holy Redeemer Lafayette in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she continued to use her pastoral skills to reach out to residents there through visits and phone calls.
“In reflecting upon my 70 years as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, I am extremely grateful for my parents, who allowed me to enter our Grey Nun community at the age of 17 and to the Grey Nuns for providing me with the education needed for my career,” Sister Mary Teresa said. “My prayer has always guided me in decision making, and I felt God’s guidance in moving from a school setting to the position of pastoral associate in the cathedral in Ogdensburg. My educational skills were needed also in the Catechumenate Program and in Adult Education Programs. It was while ministering in the parish that the Lord drew me into His care and concern for the sick in the hospital, nursing home, or homebound. I am especially grateful for my Grey Nun sisters, and for bishops, priests, deacons, family members, and the many lay people who have loved, guided and walked with me on my journey.”
Sister Mary Lee Farrell, whose religious name is Sister John Michael, is an educator with a Ph.D. in Higher Education. She has taught in elementary, secondary and college classrooms as well as in an inner-city neighborhood art school, including two years from 1967-1969 teaching Latin, religion, English and math at St. Mary’s Academy, Ogdensburg.
As director of Adult Learning at Villa Maria College in Erie, Pa., Sister Mary Lee implemented and directed an innovative program that enabled working adults to earn college degrees by attending classes on weekends.
In addition to her work as an educator and her service as a member of the Grey Nun leadership, Sister Mary Lee has been a musician, a singer and a grant writer along the many paths of her ministry life. As an instructor and grant writer at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, she taught inner city children the skills of writing, music and drawing on computers and gave trumpet lessons to young musicians.
During her 22 years in Erie, Sister Mary Lee also served as research assistant to Sister Joan Chittister for the contemporary spirituality communications platform, Benetvision.
Currently, Sister Mary Lee works in the Grey Nun Congregational Advancement Office and looks forward to a return to cantoring at area churches.
“In many ways, I find it hard to believe that 60 years have passed,” Sister Mary Lee said. “Time and grace have unfolded my life in ways and places and people I would never have foreseen. I have never been bored, but often surprised. I have never been more sure that I was in charge than just before a major crisis. I welcome jubilee as a time to rejoice in all that has been and look forward with great enthusiasm to whatever surprises await in the next 60 years.”