By Catherine Walsh, Northeast Communications Specialist
Our concluding article to this series of profiles of sisters living with serious illness is an interview with Sister Jean Roche, a nationally recognized pioneer in the hospice and death-and-dying education movement, and author of What Color is the Other Side of Darkness? Lessons of Living Taught by the Dying.
Sister Jean Roche. Photo by Michael P. Farrell/Times Union
Sisters who have shared their stories of facing terminal illness with Mercy in this series are like Jesus on the road to Emmaus, says Sister Jean Roche.
“Just as Jesus did for his disciples that day, these Sisters of Mercy are giving the rest of us a wonderful blueprint for our own very human journeys of suffering, dying and rising again,” she says. Read More »
Sister Pat Farley. Photo by Catherine Walsh/Northeast Communications.
Several months ago as part of our series on sisters living with terminal illness, Sister Pat Farley opened up about living life with metastatic ovarian cancer and preparing for her final journey.
Sister Pat filled her final months with adventures, friends and family, reflection and prayer, and on March 26 she returned to God. Her longtime friend, Sister Chris Kavanagh, shared the following reflection on Sister Pat as part of her eulogy: Read More »
Here’s what Sister Elaine Deasy has: a fatal disease. Here’s what she doesn’t have: a bucket list.
For this woman of Mercy, who is 69 and provides spiritual direction to sisters and laypeople – including women in recovery and incarcerated women – answering the question of how she would live with terminal illness didn’t take long. She would just keep doing what she was doing, but on a reduced scale so she could tend to her medical needs.
“Although I am living each day with the knowledge that I have stage four metastatic breast cancer for which there is no cure, the operative phrase is ‘I am living each day,’” she says. “I don’t have or want a bucket list. I don’t desire to go on a big trip. I’ve done nothing dramatic in terms of changing my life.” Read More »
Pope John Paul II and Sister Mary Ann met while she covered Rome for Catholic News Service from 1983 to 1986. Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano.
After a nearly 30-year career as a journalist in Washington, D.C., and Rome, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who is 67, has returned to the Sisters of Mercy’s convent in Albany, New York, to live out her final days with metastatic breast cancer. There her sisters lift her up daily in prayer and in practical ways.
They vie to push her wheelchair into the chapel for morning Mass and to the dining room, including a 90-year-old sister who says she was “certified” by the convent’s staff nurse for this duty. One sister brings Sister Mary Ann toast in the morning, when her appetite is weak. Others make her bed, do her laundry and help her with personal care.
“Mercy has jumped in from every corner to help me, in ways both large and small,” says Sister Mary Ann softly. “I want for nothing.”
Sister Mary Ann was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. At the time, she was serving as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.—the first woman to hold that position—and had already made a name for herself as one of the era’s preeminent Catholic journalists. Sisters of Mercy and other sisters cared for her and companioned her in prayer as she underwent a mastectomy and recovered from a life-threatening infection that followed.
Sister Patricia F. was sent home from the hospital to die in early August. She had metastatic ovarian cancer compounded by bowel and stomach blockages and opted for hospice over chemotherapy and other invasive treatments. The local funeral director and three priests came to see her to help her prepare for her final journey.
But then something happened. Sister Pat had no sooner made peace with her illness and surrendered to the God with whom she has walked in Mercy for 63 years, when she began to feel better.
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Sister Pat relaxes by her “wall of love” while wearing a special feather necklace. “This feather reminds me of what it is that I strive for, to be a feather on the breath of God,” she says. Photo by Catherine Walsh/Northeast Communications.
Four weeks after she left the hospital, Sister Pat walked into her surgeon’s office for a follow-up appointment and watched him do a double-take. “He kept saying, ‘Look at you! Look at you! What’s happening with you?’” recalls Sister Pat with a laugh. “He said, ‘Even though I was born and brought up Catholic, I’m not a very good one at this point. But this looks to me like this could be divine intervention.’”
Sister Pat’s first reaction to her newfound wellness was to celebrate her 80th birthday with friends at two elegant luncheons and a three-day trip to Ogunquit, Maine. So what if she had to eat pureed food at first and depend on others for her care? “When I first came home from the hospital, I thought it was my responsibility to prepare to die, and that’s what I did for about three weeks,” she muses. “Then when I realized that death wasn’t imminent, I decided to engage myself in living.”
Her doctor’s new instruction to her—“Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing!” —was one she took to heart. When friends offered to treat her and Sister Chris, her roommate and friend, to a trip to Bruges, Belgium, in October, she accepted and had a wonderful time. Since then, she’s tried to do one new, out-of-the-ordinary activity a month, including going to plays in Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City, New York, and going on a retreat at Mercy Center in Madison, Connecticut. Read More »