August 19, 1947 – May 1, 2016
“How do you become a butterfly?
You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
We come together today to celebrate the life of Sister Jane Frances Sullivan and most especially to celebrate her life as a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston. During Jane’s fifty years as a Sister of St. Joseph, Jane lived her life with simplicity, humility, fidelity, courage and a profound love of God. In our lives as Religious women we don’t often speak of coincidences in our lives, rather as our lives unfold we see each new day as what God has planned for each of us from all eternity. Over the last week I have had the opportunity to reflect on some incidences in Jane’s life that some may call coincidences. Jane had great devotion to St. Joseph. She entered the Congregation from St. Joseph’s Parish in Holbrook. Her religious name was Sister Eileen St. Joseph, after her mother and father. Jane died on May 1st the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker of which I was reminded that that is the Feast of St. Joseph which Jane celebrated as her feast day. As we leave chapel today we’ll sing Holy Patron which Jane used in honor of her patron Saint at significant celebrations in her life.
Our Scripture readings today reflect a glimpse of what Jane’s desire was to be as a Sister of St. Joseph and that is “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are reminded that our sufferings and disappointments “can never outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus.” Jane’s trust and belief in God was sustained by her prayer.
Jane’s Faith helped her to endure her health challenges. Every morning the favors of the Lord were renewed for Jane and she was grateful. God’s favors were manifested by every kind act and word by the staff on the second floor. She appreciated when people visited, walked around the property with her, took her out for ice cream and even let her assist in gardening. The last words that Jane spoke to me were, “Thank you very much”. Let us pray that we might share Jane’s faith and trust that God will take care of us in good times and in difficult times.
Jane lived Jesus’ words as expressed in today’s Gospel passage of the vine and branches. Being a gardener herself Jane knew that she could not bear fruit all by herself. She knew that her strength was in the knowledge that she was a branch of God’s vine. By pruning and staying attached with her God in prayer she would bear much fruit. All of us experience challenges in our lives as Jane did. These challenges change our lives but they do not separate us from the God who loves us. We are transformed by them and made stronger in our faith. I don’t think any of us here could estimate the number of children whose first experience of learning was with Sister Eileen St. Joseph (aka Sister Jane) As a primary grade teacher, Jane had the privilege and the sacred trust to nurture in young children a love for learning not only in reading and math but also teaching them to know how much God loved them. Jane was a wonderful primary grade teacher who transformed lives. Imagine how many young children‘s lives were transformed by Jane’s teaching whether it was at St. Patrick’s in Roxbury or Sacred Hearts, Bradford or Nazareth Home for Children in Jamaica Plain. As a Sister of St. Joseph, Jane always moved toward profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction.
Some of us here today may remember an inspirational book that was popular in the early 1970s, Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. For those who are not familiar with the Book (Hope for the Flowers) it is about two caterpillars YELLOW and STRIPE and their search for “the more” of life. The butterfly was a significant symbol in Jane’s life. As Sisters of St. Joseph we too are always in search of “the more.”
I came across a few quotes from the book that are in question/ answer form that Jane had written out. These quotes have given me pause for reflection.
“Tell me, what is a butterfly?” “It’s what you are meant to become. It flies with beautiful wings and joins earth to heaven.” We’ll never know Jane’s responses to these questions but we do know that in her short life Jane became what God meant her to be and her life on earth has now been joined to her eternal life in heaven.
“How does one become a butterfly?” “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” I don’t imagine it’s an easy transformation from caterpillar to butterfly but the beauty of the end result is certainly worth the struggle.
“Once you are a butterfly, you can really love – the kind of love that makes a new life. It’s better than all the hugging that caterpillars can do.”
I think it’s safe to say that Jane has really loved the kind of love that makes a new life and that life for her now is eternal life.
Perhaps the next time we see a butterfly we can think of Jane and say a prayer of thanksgiving for Jane’s presence in all of our lives.
It will take us some time to adjust to the suddenness of Jane’s death but our consolation can be that she now enjoys the fullness of life with her loving God, her parents, her brothers and friends gone before her.
May our God of great love who claimed Jane as his own in Baptism and by religious profession now embrace Jane in the love, peace and joy of eternal life.
Patricia E. McCarthy, CSJ