When I received the surprising phone call from Sister Peggy on Friday that Sister Gertrude Mary died I couldn’t help but think how appropriate that she died as we the church celebrate this season on Advent…..the season that speaks the words…. Come Lord Jesus – a beautiful Advent cry. It is a cry to the Lord Jesus who is always present to us to come with the absolute fullness of His presence. It is a cry that springs from the lips of all of us, each year during the advent season. And each year it happens and it doesn’t happen. Each year the Lord Jesus enters ever more deeply into our lives; but each year, we have to make the humble admission: “It really hasn’t happened yet. Jesus has not yet come with the absolute fullness of his presence.”
But what is true for all of us assembled here, is no longer true for Sister Gertrude Mary. Like many of us, she spent many advents waiting for that total coming of her Saviour. Most especially in these last years as she sat waiting at St. Mary’s Nursing Home…..and it didn’t happen until this year, 2103 on December 7th, when she cried out Come Lord Jesus and he came and answered her call. He came in the fullness of his presence. He came to fulfill his promise…..I will come and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.
I cannot help but wonder if Sister Gertrude Mary asked Jesus on Saturday morning…..what took you so long? I can just hear her saying in that soft yet determined voice, as we have all experienced, “I have been waiting a long time. Where have you been? What took you so long to come to me?” Oh how she waited and there is a lesson in that I believe for all of us…..I watched her wait with patience and with grace……
When Sister Gertrude Mary moved to St. Mary’s Nursing home four years ago, the world as she knew it dramatically changed. She was no longer living in a convent with her Dominican Sisters but shared a room with another woman resident…..and anyone who visited her knew that her space was limited to a ½ room……and yet never did I ever hear her utter a word of complaint. Soon after she became a resident at St. Mary’s, I was at the nursing home one day walking down the hall way when I heard a voice calling to me….Father Odien……and as I looked at the woman in the wheel chair, I did not recognize her but I went over to say hello and with great gusto she introduced herself to me……Sister Gertrude Mary…..because I didn’t recognize the woman sitting in the wheel chair with blue slacks, a white blouse and the pump shoes….Oh how life had changed…..she was no longer wearing the habit she faithfully wore for 74 years but while I am sure it was difficult for her to change…..change and adapt she did and she did so with grace!
What was vitally important to Sister Gertrude Mary was not the limitations of her physical space or that she no longer was going to wear the habit…..what was most important to her was her relationship with the Lord and her ability to go to Mass every day and to make a holy hour as often and frequently as she could which was daily. Our reading today from the Prophet Isaiah tells it all….I have called you by name and you are mine….she had a real sense of personal union with God. She was convinced that God loved her and called her by name and that she was precious in God’s eyes, not because of anything she had done but because God had redeemed her and saved her. It is a wonderful thing to know that we are all precious in God’s eyes and loved by God; but it is so easy for these words to be speculative knowledge that we hold in our minds, but not always in our hearts. A truth that is in our heads but not in our hearts has little influence on the way we live our lives. Sister Gertrude Mary spent 78 years of religious life living a life of union with God. And she served God faithfully and lived her life as a teacher for over 70+ YEARS. Think of the number of students she encountered over these 70+ years.
So we come together this evening to celebrate life not death!
We gather here tonight because we believe in death as a fulfillment….that moment when which we say a full and total yes to God and are wrapped around by the loving arms of God. We gather here this evening to celebrate Sister Gertrude Mary’s death with a sense of joy and hope and consolation. There is a deep sense of loss for all the many people who loved her. But we must take joy and peace from the realization that this experience is not loss but rather all gain for SGM….and how happy she would be to see all of us gathered here tonight around the Eucharistic table…..which she did every day of her life….Eucharist…….thanksgiving……we give thanks to God for SGM and for placing her in all of our lives in varied and special ways…..
And so dear Gertrude Mary….we pray for you today. Not because we believe you need our prayers, For we are confident that God has enfolded you in divine love……in God’s embrace…..But we pray for you today because we believe that our prayers are a way that a loving God has given us to keep our contacts with those whom God has called…….Our prayers today are our way of embracing you….our way of experiencing the communion of saints….our way of saying thanks…..we know that we are one with you in God……rest in peace dear Sister Gertrude Mary…..thank you for loving us and gifting us with your presence in unique ways. I am sure God welcomed you ……good and faithful servant…….
Father Terry Odien, December 11, 2013
Sister Gertrude Mary Kerin, OP of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, died December 7, 2013 at St. Mary’s Nursing Home in Gloucester, NJ. She was 99 years of age.
The daughter of the late Thomas F. and Gertrude Murnane Kerin, she was born November 22, 1914 in Chicago, Illinois.
Sister Gertrude Mary entered the novitiate of the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh on September 8, 1935, made her First Profession June 27, 1937, and Final Profession August 4, 1943. Sister Gertrude Mary earned her BS in Home Economics from the College of St. Elizabeth, her MA in Education from Fordham University, and her MS in Chemistry from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Sister Gertrude Mary began her ministry in secondary education at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Newburgh, NY in 1935 as a chemistry teacher. She transferred to the biology department where she remained until 1965. From 1965-67 she served as principal at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, NC. She then moved on to Gloucester Catholic High School in Gloucester NJ, where she started out as vice-principal from 1967-70 and then served as teacher and administrative aide until her death.
Sister Gertrude Mary received the following awards: Principals Award in 1985 and again in 2001; the St. Mary’s Parish Award for Devoted Services to St Mary’s Church and School and Gloucester Catholic High School in 1999; and the Dr. Frank and Catherine Kelly Award for Services to Gloucester Catholic High School in 1997. At the 2005 Gala Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Gloucester Catholic High School she received a Proclamation signed by Governor Cody for her services in education in the state of New Jersey.
Sister was born and raised in Scarsdale, New York, where she belonged to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.