Sister Mary T. Kelleher, CSJ

Sister Mary T. Kelleher, CSJ

(Sr. Anna William)

July 18, 1927 – December 31, 2022

We remember her

in the blowing of the wind

and the chill of winter


What can be said about Sister Mary Kelleher, also known as Sister Anna William? Actually, a lot! First, let me answer the question I have been asked many times since last Sunday. How did Mary and I connect with one another? Usually, the answer would be, we lived together; taught together or she was my teacher. But, none of those was true for the two of us.

As a little girl, Mary accompanied her father and his best friend to visit his daughter, our Sister Francoise. My first mission was teaching 50 fourth graders at St. Theresa, West Roxbury, a mismatch if there ever was one! I knew nothing about teaching fourth graders – but in August, their teacher was sick in Bethany so the fifth string was brought in.

Francoise taught second grade so she knew my students. She kept me sane with her encouragement and support. In the late 80’s S. Francoise herself was at Bethany and both Mary and I were visiting her. Occasionally, our paths crossed and that is how we met. Francoise told both of us we were to remain friends and near the end of her life told me I was to take care of Mary!

After Francoise’s death, Mary and I met regularly for lunch or a visit in Lynn. I came to know Mary better. Mary was the most compassionate, dedicated, committed CSJ I know. She absolutely loved her ministry to the sick and elderly of Lynn. She faithfully visited parishioners of St. Joseph parish in their homes or in one of the nursing homes. She knew each person by name and their history and spent quality time with them when bringing communion. The pain of losing this ministry ran deep. Mary had a prayer group that met regularly and I am grateful to Eileen and Patti McCarthy for contacting each of them. The McCarthys worked with Mary on many parish projects and they continued them after she moved to Bethany. One of those projects was “My Brothers Table”. Just last week one of our Associates who lives in Swampscott began volunteering there. When she mentioned to the other volunteers that she was a CSJ Associate, they began to wax eloquently on Mary and Rita Hennessey, part of the original founding group. She said you would have thought they were here just yesterday.

But Mary’s life was not always easy. She didn’t always believe in her own goodness and kindness even as she affirmed and championed the goodness in others. Sometime in the 70’s she chose alcohol as her friend. One night, I am told by Helene Higgins she was reading an article in Review for Religious by a Dominican Sister from NY who wrote: if you are reading this in bed and drinking, get out of bed and call me at this number. Mary did! S. Maurice Doody befriended Mary and drove every weekend from NY to Lynn to be with Mary and walk with her on the road to sobriety. This led to Mary’s victory over alcohol for the last 43 years. Not easy but she did it and remained faithful to her pledge to “accept what she could not change and to change what she could with a wisdom that knew the difference.” When she needed care at Bethany one of her biggest disappointments, besides the loss of her ministry to the sick and elderly, was no longer being able to attend the summer Inter-congregational Addiction Program (ICAP) retreats in MI at which Mary was often a speaker.

Mary remained faithful to her AA meetings and to her AA friends on the North Shore, some of whom are here this morning. I went with her to an AA meeting in Lynn on one of her anniversary dates at which she was the speaker. I was blown away by the freedom, honesty, integrity and depth of her reflections with which she shared her story. When she first came to Framingham, she found meetings in town and made new friends, one of whom Katy Herz drove her to a weekly meeting. When COVID struck and meetings became virtual, Katy set her up on her iPad to watch zoom meetings and when she lost the ability to manipulate the iPad, Katy came periodically with two or three others and they held a meeting in her room. Thank you, Katy and friends.

In order to give back to those who helped her, Mary reached out to anyone she knew was struggling with addiction. She was part of the intervention team for her dear friend, Fr. John Gallagher who eventually was sent to Guest House by the diocese and Mary endured the pain of his anger and rejection at the time. But he came home with deep gratitude and love for Mary’s support and care. She tried several times to initiate a support group for sisters here in Boston but was disappointed that so few sisters came because she was convinced that there were so many more that could have been helped. For those who did come to the monthly meetings, she gave her all.

Family was very important to Mary. She loved having her grandniece and grandnephew stay with her at St. Joseph’s and help her with the chapel cleaning and decorating for holidays. I understand in the summer, she took them to swim in the McCarthy pool and then out for Chinese food. She was very interested in what each of her grands were doing – their success at college, their jobs.

Physical pain was a real constant in her life. The car accident that took her dear friend, Rita required three months of recuperation in Bethany for the broken bones and fractured ribs to heal. She had several falls – broken hip, broken elbow, fractured pelvis, and bumps on the head. She had a myriad of allergies, which limited the painkillers she was able to take. It was very hard to watch her in pain and know you couldn’t do anything for her. All anyone could do was accompany her as the broken body part healed. When it did heal, she was ready to go again. Unfortunately, she didn’t always remember that she could not do things on her own anymore and needed her walker or the help of nursing staff. Periodic depression was also part of her life.

Sunday morning, I came up to get her address book, hoping I would recognize names to contact and also ask them to let anyone else know whom they were aware would want to know. On my way into Bethany, up to the fourth floor and back, I met several staff who offered condolences and then began to tell me how much they and everyone else loved Mary; what a lovely person she was, and how much they would miss her. One of the nurses told me she looked forward every morning to being greeted with her wide smile. And that she did have. When I entered her room and tapped her on the leg with “Hey, sleepyhead”, she would open her eyes, recognize me and give me the biggest smile ever. I like to think it was for me alone but I know everyone got the same.

Thank you, Mary, for your passion, your compassion, your service to the sick and elderly, your accompaniment and support of those with addictions, your fidelity to congregation and community and most of all your gift to me. Go in peace and enjoy the reward of eternal life that you so richly deserve.

Given by Sister Mary Ann Doyle, CSJ
January 5, 2023