delivered by Alice Feely, RDC
Bishop Walsh and all our concelebrants, family and friends of Sister Loretta Carey, sisters and associates--
In the past Sr. Loretta was often available to me for a critique or practice session of some address or remarks that I was preparing. While she encouraged me, she also often urged me to brevity. I have tried to keep that in mind.
Loretta was not a person who basked in the limelight or the attention of others but rather turned attention and focus to others. Up through the last day of her illness she never lost an opportunity to thank anyone who did her a service, who visited or called, promised prayer or sent cards. She bore her pain and suffering with graciousness. As we give thanks for her life among us I believe she would also want me to extend special thanks to those who cared for her so lovingly during the last eighteen months—especially Ivy and all the aides from the Neighbors agency of Grace Church, and during the past week the wonderful staff of Veronica Hall here at Good Counsel along with Noreen Rosa and Sr. Pat Sheridan who helped in supporting Loretta’s care throughout her illness. Special thanks to the sisters who prayed with her every Thursday night, to the priests—Fathers Dan, Peter and Anthony—who came to the house and offered Mass with Loretta, to the sisters who had committee meetings at our home so that Loretta could participate, to all her Sisters of the Divine Compassion—and to some young people in my family—Rachel who lit a candle at her church every week in Binghamton for Loretta’s healing, Michael, Christopher, Alexa and AJ who sent homemade cards while Loretta was in hospital.
My friendship with Loretta began on shaky grounds. As principal of Preston High School she had requested that the General Superior assign a math teacher to Preston in the Fall of 1962. Mistakenly thinking I was a math major Mother Ethelburge gave the assignment to me, an English major. In addition to no credentials, I arrived at Preston with a terrific case of bursitis preventing me from joining the other sisters in doing the heavy physical work necessary to open school for another year. Never lacking in hope, Loretta welcomed me graciously and somehow worked it out that I would in fact teach Algebra and Geometry that year and several years thereafter.
Loretta’s sudden assignment as principal of Preston after the untimely death of Sr. Mary Aquinata, was the beginning of some very challenging ministerial responsibilities put on her shoulders by her community right into the 21st century. Loretta led Preston during a time of great expansion of both student body and facilities. The times were characterized by Vatican 2 and its impact on the church, the social upheaval of the 1960’s, and the Vietnam war. Preston parents found Loretta to be wise, someone they could entrust their daughters to; students found her kind, strong, compassionate. Teachers were empowered under her leadership, and she arranged for her teachers to participate in Friday afternoon lectures at Fordham in order to update theological and scriptural understanding following the Vatican Council. Loretta’s links with Preston continued through the years and less than a week ago brought her special joy when a young graduate was awarded the Sr. Loretta Carey full 4-year scholarship to Pace University, a scholarship initiated and maintained by Pace University annually. Hearing that Sister was ill, the young woman, Corinne, sent flowers to Loretta along with a beautiful card filled with gratitude and promise of hard work to achieve a Bachelors on Nursing. Loretta asked me to keep that card and to show it to her visitors.
During her first term in congregational leadership Loretta entered a new phase of her lifelong ministry as educator. As Director of Education she opened up myriad opportunities for graduate education for her sisters, strengthening congregational ministries and laying the groundwork for the opening of new ministries. And some people who had hoped they would never have to be a student again after finishing college discovered excitement and new possibility in advanced education and training.
During this time she also gave her all to the complexities of her assignment to the board of the College of White Plains. For Loretta, giving her all as a Sister of the Divine Compassion in ministry and congregational life meant bringing her considerable powers of intellect, heart and intuition to bear; it meant listening, raising questions along with a willingness to learn and an openness to ongoing dialogue; in the midst of conflict it meant courage along with a respect for others and their experience and position; it meant a commitment to the positive implementation of a decision. I believe it also meant clear eyed vision without ever placing blame. It meant thoughtful and succinct observations, creative approaches and solutions.
All these qualities developed further when Loretta turned her energies to the contemporary need for justice and peace education—a wonderful time of working with the JPECS (a group of sister colleagues from different communities forming the Justice and Peace Education Council) giving infusion learning workshops and teacher training around the country and beyond, being involved in the implementation of the US Bishops Peace Pastoral and later their Pastoral on the Economy. On the day she died Loretta wanted me to pray with her the 3rd Glorious Mystery, the descent of the Holy Spirit. She always believed in Pentecost-- for her religious community and its ministries, for the church, for the world.
Loretta’s seventeen years with St. Elizabeth’s parish in Washington Heights were very happy ones. The many people who have come to Good Counsel to honor her yesterday and today could talk better than I about what that experience was like. What I know is that the parish was often a place of celebration and community, a parish where many people volunteer. Over the years I received many calls from emergency rooms and apartments where Loretta was seeing some homebound or needy person through a crisis. Her dinner or whatever other plans she had that day or night could wait. She was a tireless advocate and she helped people make peace with their losses and illnesses and, ultimately, with the coming of death. As was true in all her ministries, Loretta never gave up on anyone. She continued to be a woman of hope.
Loretta never tired of reading until cataracts on her eyes made that impossible and she had to turn to books on CD, being read to, NPR and Yankee games on the radio, and eventually TV. Loretta had a zest for life; she was game for new adventures. She had a great sense of rhythm and enjoyed a celebration. Movies were a favorite as was swimming. For many years the weather didn’t matter as long as she could get into the water. Her last swim was in early October, 2007, in Peconic Bay, Long Island. An ongoing delight for Loretta was the sight of the nearby Hudson River –with its magnificent views and breathtaking sunsets.
During Loretta’s weeks in the hospital she sometimes put out her arms in this way, similar to the extended arms in the statue above our altar here, a statue designed to the specifications of our Foundress, intended to represent to the sisters and to all who came to this chapel the words of Jesus, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” When I asked Loretta if she was praying with this gesture, she said yes. Last week she asked me, “how are we going to get home?” Then minutes before her death Loretta again made this gesture of trust and compassionate openness with a gentle smile—leaving us with the assurance of her peacefulness and the inspiration of her never-ending hope in new and renewed life—leaving us also with a prayed response to her earlier question and, ultimately, a question for each of us, “How are we going to get home?” Loretta is one of our guides.