April 26, 1913 - September 26, 2015
As a young Sister of St. Joseph I was remotely aware of Sister Eustace. I was a Principal in Dorchester and my best friend, Sister Ellie Daniels was the principal of Cathedral Grammar School. Often when I visited the South End to see Ellie, I would hear about Sister Eustace. Sometimes when I visited Fontbonne Convent I would see Sister Eustace living among the Sisters so humbly and unassumingly, never bragging about the ministry at which she was so involved.
In reading some of the commentaries in Sister Eustace’s folder, one newspaper writer called her the Mother Theresa of the South End. Another wrote she was the “Saint of the South End”. Sister Eustace’s humble response within the article was, “I am just doing God’s work”. I believe this sentence characterizes the Sister of St. Joseph we are honoring this morning, Sister Eustace Caggiano.
Orphaned at the age of three, Phyllis Caggiano was raised in Medford by her Aunt Helen and Uncle Angelo. She grew up amidst the loving and nurturing Cagno family. In 1935 after graduating from high school and working at a local bakery, at 22 years of age Phyllis responded to a vocational call to enter the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and became known as Sister Eustace, a name she treasured. Thus began her religious life not only to fulfill her vows but faithfully strive to live the mission of the Congregation. And did she love the Congregation! So many sisters who have lived in community with Sister Eustace have stated that her smile radiated from morning to night in fulfilling the ministry she was assigned to do. Be it service to the Sisters serving in a domestic way in our convents in various parts of the diocese – from Gloucester to Framingham to Dorchester to Haverhill, Medford to Boston. And it was in Boston that God’s call came to her quickly and dramatically. Evidence of this was seeing Sister Eustace slipping out the back door of Cathedral Convent to feed students from the grammar school, always trying to put not only some food in their stomachs but pleasure into their lives. It was her wish that her assistance would allow these children to maintain school academics and thus reach successful adult lives. Witnessing the outreach that Sister Eustace was performing from the convent doorway, was a factor that caused the late Father Ernie Serino to recruit Sister Eustace to minister at the Cardinal Cushing Resource Center. As their friendship grew Father Serino and other volunteers at the Center attested to what this dynamic woman religious would and could do. Recognizing the diversity of immigrants flocking to the Center, Sr. Eustace learned to speak Spanish, mastered the ethnicity of the Vietnamese and other immigrant people. For thirty two years at the Center – El Centro Cardenal Sister Eustace distributed clothing and furniture in her “Boutique”, supplied food to the poor and homeless with a captivating smile and joy filled heart. She was a powerhouse yet a graceful, humble lady. When she found the Resource Center had been sold, learning it from reading a newspaper, she accepted the news with grace and dignity. For her dedication to serving the poor Sister Eustace was acknowledged with many awards during her lengthy time at the El Centro, and honored for her Legacy of Love. Truly she gave us CSJs of Boston an example of service to the dear neighbor beyond our convents, within our neighborhoods and those new to our shores.
One wonders how this woman could do so much! I believe it was because of her deep awareness of the presence of God not only in her life, but also in the lives of the people she encountered. One wonders as a young Sister, did Eustace reflect on Isaiah’s words, “Here is my servant… so gentle (that) faithfully you bring forth justice”. Or reading Timothy’s letter, “Fan into flame the gift that God gave you”. Perhaps those words deepened in Sister Eustace as she was positioned in the path of the most needy whom she felt she was called and privileged to serve.
Being a woman who saw the many faces of life, Sister Eustace accepted change and transition in her own life all the way to her 102 years. Residing at Fontbonne Convent came to an end for her in 2007. Medical care was needed in her life and she accepted the decision to go to Bethany. During these past years at Bethany Health Care Center the staff at Bethany has witnessed the same persona within Sister Eustace as those who knew her in active ministry. Her gentle smiles, gratitude for services given to her, even in her aging were always acknowledged to them. Aging and health brought many changes, however, Sister Eustace’s concern for the “other” never waned.
Often when I visited Sister Eustace, she would hold my hand and kiss it, smiling up at me. She was always happy to have someone visit her, family, sisters, students and friends from the South End.
In the past few months I almost felt that Sister Eustace was hearing Jesus’s promise to prepare a dwelling place for her. For when she could speak she mouthed her desire for Jesus to come for her.
So now Sister Eustace Caggiano is resting with her beloved God. A loving God that gave her the Way, the Truth and the Life. We, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston are grateful for the presence of Sister Eustace in our Congregation for the past eighty years. As a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston, Sister Eustace lived our Constitution:” We strive in every aspect of our lives to be for others a visible sign of God’s presence and active love. We engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy so that justice and peace, freedom and human dignity may prevail.” May God now gift you, Sister Eustace with eternal peace and joy.
Gail Donahue, CSJ