January 21, 1929 - January 23, 2013
Earlier this afternoon we heard the reading from our Constitution Spirit and Purpose. It speaks to us of the Sister of St. Joseph as being an ecclesial woman, sharing life in an apostolic, diocesan, religious congregation, expressing our love for God and neighbor by professing publicly vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. It also expresses our desire to "strive in every aspect of our lives to be for others a VIS IBLE SIGN of God's presence and active love".
This description captures who Sister Agnes Melly was! Her lifespan was a visible sign that recognized her as a woman of the Church, apostolic in her ministries, and greatly involved in the Congregation calls and directives that were presented to the Congregation.
Sister Agnes Melly, formerly known as Sister Francis Claire entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1946. She began her ministry as an elementary school teacher and for 21 years educated children at various Catholic schools. As the Principal of St. Raphael School in Medford she was the spiritual and academic leader. In these positions, faculty, students and parents observed a frontrunner who stretched the minds and hearts of all in the school community. Her belief in providing a quality, holistic, Catholic Education spreading its value system to society, specifically naming causes such as Earth Awareness and respect for ethnic diversity, motivated her in all the events that she sponsored. In 1978,
Sister Agnes accepted an invitation to become a member of the Educational Development Team of the Catholic School Office in the Archdiocese of Boston. Colleagues of her team are here with us tonight! As a member of the Catholic School Office team, Sister Agnes' desire to be of service was always demonstrated by her words," I want to be of service to you." This was accompanied with the professional development she offered, particularly to the Principals with whom she worked. I was one of the beneficiaries of her support and professionalism.
Being a woman of profound prayer, the movement of the Spirit through reflection and theological study radiated a forward thrust towards new pastures for Sister Agnes. Ministry as a parish associate gave Sister an awareness into all aspects of life. Her compassion for each parishioner, and for their families enflamed a renewal of parish community life and the meaning of church in the parish. She also embraced a position at Seton House where she companioned clients recovering from drug abuse and people afflicted with AIDs - a calling that was new to most religious women of that day.
As the book of Isaiah expresses in tonight's Liturgy, we are encouraged to be a covenant for the people – give sight, be a light. Sister Agnes Melly applied that mandate call for her life. She heard God's call to brave new paths - to risk. Sister's endeavor led her to become one of the first woman religious to be a hospital Chaplin… in fact Sister Agnes' talents and spirituality spread to more than one hospital during her career. Interestingly, in one of her letters to a former Area Councilor, Agnes wrote that in her ministerial role at the hospital she had to be known as a Coordinator of Catholic Pastoral Services as this was what the Archdiocese wanted her to be called - not as Chaplin!
In 2002, Sister Agnes Melly's ministry was recognized by Mount Saint Joseph Academy (her alma mater) as a Woman of Excellence. In their celebratory presentation to her, Sister was honored for her role" in strengthening pastoral ministries, for being a counsel for AIDS victims, and a voice for the poor and the elderly."
Sister Agnes was a woman who loved her family especially her siblings, and looked with admiration upon Sister Catherine who became a real support and companion as they resided together at Bethany.
Sister Agnes Melly's death is a great loss particulary for her family, her colleagues and friends, and for us, the Sisters of St. Joseph. I had the privilege of being with Agnes at her death and witnessed her passing as a real sadness for the nurses on the second floor. As we stood around Sister's bed to pray, tears came to the eyes of her nurses. It told me that for all the time Sister Agnes had resided in Bethany, even in the diminishment of her life, she had given her personal spirit of life to those who cared and visited her there.
Sister Agnes Melly saw the needs of people she met, and society's problems, and tried to respond with love and care to all. May God reward her as being a faithful servant and dedicated Sister of St. Joseph.
All of us have wonderful memories of Sister Agnes. These are truly gifts. If you would like to share a thought, word, or a way in which Sister Agnes touched your life, I invite you to come forward to the microphone now.
Sister Agnes Melly was a wonderful example for all of us. She truly lived out the reading from our Constitution: "We strive in every aspect of our lives to be for others a visible sign of God's active and inclusive love."
Given by: Gail Donahue, CSJ