Sister Marie Therese Keough, CSJ

(Sister Helena Marie)

June 5, 1930 – September 7, 2023

 We Remember Her
In the blueness of the skies and
in the
warmth of summer

Our first reading from Proverbs speaks of a valiant woman.  Those who are here can easily attest to the fact that Marie was one. From her teenage years when her father died at an early age, to entering the community, to her challenge of responding to the needs of the young, as a teacher and as a provider for homeless and troubled youths, to her recent serious health issues, Sister Marie faced them all as a valiant woman. 

Marie Therese Keough was born on June 5, 1930 in Newton to Harold and Helene (Sullivan) Keough. Two years later her sister, Agnes, was born. When Marie was 12 years old, her father died in an accident.  Helene was a very caring parent and developed a wonderfully close bond with her two girls, which lasted throughout their lifetime. Marie was very supportive of her mother, providing a nurturing and fun-filled home with the assistance that her mother needed in her later years. 

In 1949, soon after graduating from Our Lady’s High School, Marie entered the Sisters of St. Joseph and received the religious name Sister Helena Marie. She followed the usual pattern of serving as an elementary school teacher for several schools in the Diocese. She studied at Boston University, receiving her Business Education degree in 1969. As a teacher, Sister Marie was demanding and challenging yet very kind and compassionate.

During these and the following years, she was close to her sister, Agnes, her husband Carl, and their four children, Annmarie, Gary, Paul, and Michael, and her grandnephews, many of whom are not able to be here due to distance. In the early days, the children would go to her classrooms and put on shows. As they got older and Auntie Marie could go home, one of her early adventures was playing bocci in the backyard. Family holidays were very special to all of them, during which she developed strong relationships with her niece and nephews and their families. As time went on, vacations on Cape Cod were a highlight of Marie and her family’s life together. She loved the beach and spending time with her family, especially her grandnephews as they were growing up. Family meant so much to Marie.

It was while teaching at St. Anthony’s School in Allston that Sister Marie realized she was teaching her students but was not really reaching them. The world in the late 60’s had changed so much. She became more aware of the changing needs of the young people sitting in front of her in the classroom, and the urge to become more directly involved with young people grew within her. Alongside her dear friend, Sister Barbara Whalen (with whom she had been teaching), they began the preparation for a prototype for responding to the needs of youth on the streets of cities.

Years of hard work, making connections, seeking funds, and other support from companies and political leaders ensued. Sisters Barbara and Marie joined with Sister Barbara Scanlon to create the model, which included a building in Boston, medical vans traveling around the city areas, a residential home in Brighton, and single-parent-housing, transitional services for drop-ins. After the well-known song of those days, the program was called “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” With the help of other sisters and friends, they began to deliver sandwiches in the evening to those whom they found on the streets around Boston Common and in Cambridge. Food was delivered and medical assistance was provided, but more importantly, a listening ear, a caring presence, and a simple suggestion for future improvement accompanied these evening visits. More than 50 years later, the project that began in the early 1970s has expanded and continues to meet a need that is so pervasive in our society today.

During these years, Sister Marie remained focused on our Gospel reading. Our God reminds us that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and comfort the ill, we are doing it alongside Jesus, who has called us to share in His mission. She will inherit the Kingdom prepared for her. Sister Marie was a social minister, and later the financial coordinator at Bridge Over Troubled Waters. She became a steady presence in the office and among all involved with Bridge. To quote a former worker, “What you (and Sister Barbara) created is beyond amazing and will live on far beyond all our years, providing critical services, otherwise unattainable, to many… adults and children alike… who are our ‘people in troubled waters’… our people of the streets.”

Those early years were not easy days; there was so much work to be done. Sister Marie’s commitment was so strong that she was always ready to do whatever was necessary.

Sister Barbara speaks of her dear friend and states “We were very different, we disagreed, we argued about how things should be done, but we knew what was important – the good of the young people who came to us.”  Sister Marie Keough loved what she did and had tremendous respect for those with whom she worked, as they did for her. Perhaps this is what enabled her to work so well and so effectively with many different personalities. Marie had a wonderful mind and certainly ran the business aspect of Bridge in a professional manner. Yet, behind the scenes, she integrated this organizational skill with her warm, engaging, and caring personality. She was like a mother to the clients but also to the staff.  She was so generous and selfless that when she was at Bethany, she would ask for a gift of candy so that she could put it out for others to enjoy.

When the time for retirement came, Marie moved with Barbara to Yarmouth on Cape Cod. There she fell in love with Suzie, their little dog. She felt called to ministry in quieter ways. She became involved in the lives of those in her neighborhood and in the Yarmouth area. Later, when she moved to our Motherhouse and then to Bethany, she brought her gentle and positive outlook on life. Her smile, laughter, and sense of humor enabled her to keep that positive outlook when challenges arose and difficulties set in. She continued to be a gracious and, as several people mentioned, an “elegant” presence.

The quote from our constitution on the front of your program says, “We fulfill our mission of unity through a diversity of ministries called forth by the ever-changing needs of the Church and the world.  Thank you, Sister Marie Keough, for the ways that you lived our mission of unity, amidst all types of diversity, every day of your life.

By Mary Ellen O’Connell, CSJ

Given September 12, 2023