Sister Gerald Hartney, CSC
One of the "great ladies" of religious life died two weeks ago. Sister Gerald surely was one of the leaders in health care, financial management, university administration and, most of all, absolute and complete dedication and fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church. She finished her mission where she initiated it: Sisters of the Holy Cross motherhouse, St. Mary's, Indiana.
There will be many stories about Sister Gerald (Maura Josephine back on the old sod). Limerick was her place of birth and the first few years of her life. As a young woman, Maura learned how to work the columns of a ledger sheet with extraordinary acumen. That skilled took her around the world. Finishing her financial prep, she set sail from the port at Cobh for her "new home." She often shared with me how emotional that moment was as she looked back at the magnificent cathedral in the port town. She was leaving home. "Father, I was frightened. I don't tell many that but I 'twas."
Gerald was known in priests' circles for her Irish wit, her non-stop talking, her fears that Vatican II had made too many changes in the Church, especially impacting womens' religious life. She was also known for her love of travel. "You know, Father, I cannot violate the vow of poverty ... so I have to ask those who need my help to take the ticket! The lady saw the world, my friends!!!
On occasion she would share some of the Gerald "R&R" (Research & Rescue) operations that she undertook. There are many church-related operations that owe their existence today to her dedicated service to any organization in financial trouble and the farther away the better!!!. Whenever I would tell her of an idea that was over the top, she would reply, "Father, most would not believe you but I will." I knew with that remark it was time to put the idea in the trash.
In her later years, she became a missionary to Zimbabwe where her beloved nephew lived. On that "vow of poverty" she was able to visit her nephew because he was trying to set up a farm that would give work to the poor, unemployed! Oh, she knew how to work her way around the roadblocks. Once there, she fell in love with the country and the work that her nephew provided her missionary spirit. For the next several years she returned there for the summer to catechize the young and the older Zimbabwians (say that three times, real fast!!!). At one time she recounted that she had prepared more than 8000 people for the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
Her humor was rarely missing. Returning to America from Zimbabwe, Sister Gerald collapsed in Heathrow Airport. Very quickly a doctor came to her. It was her heart. After several light "slaps" on the face, Gerald came around. "Oh, thank God, we saved you" were the words of the physician. Her words of thanks? "I guess I should thank you, Doctor, but now you have kept me from my heavenly home a little longer. I saw the bright light. I knew that Jesus was coming. I guess I have to do some more work." Often have I wondered, when Sister told that story, what the doctor must have thought!
One last story. Sister Gerald asked me to drive her to Ocean City. The CFO was there on his vacation but she had to have his signature on an important document. She had made arrangements for us to stay with the CFO overnight!!! My colleagues teased me about the ride and how my ears would hurt by the time we returned. I was wearing a running watch at the time. On the way to OC from DC I would push the start botton the the time watch each time I spoke (or, literally could get a word in edge-wise). When I arrived at OC, I had amassed 16 seconds!!!! But she was so lovable, really she was.
In many ways the Church has been blessed by women who have dedicated their lives in service to Christians and non-Christians alike just like the women mentioned in today's gospel reading. Many have given up so much of themselves to bring others to know the love and care of their God. Each Sister, I suspect, stands out in her own way. But for me, Gerald was truly unique. Our offices were across from each other. Each day there and the days I drove her to work (she lived in the convent of the parish where I was a resident priest) I knew that I would be learning more about finances, better management, how wonderful it was to be working with Archbishop Hickey, and how important prayer was.
Now she is home and enjoys that light that she glimpsed on the Heathrow Airport floor. Thank you, God, for giving us another powerful woman in our Church who never tired of service to anyone in need.
Eternal rest grant to her, Lord.
May perpetual Light be upon her
and we are praying for you, Lord,
as you hear the stories and stories and stories! Amen