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Sister Julia (Marie Loretta) Shea

Sister Julia Shea

“Be still before the Lord; wait for God.” (Psalm 37:7)

“In speaking of Sister Julia’s death, more than one person has commented, ‘She waited so long to die’ or ‘She has waited so long for the Lord.’ When we come to think of it, we realize that all of us spend much of our life in waiting. Look to the beginning of this day — what have you waited for? And if you look to tomorrow, what further events or situations are you awaiting? What does it mean ‘to wait?’ It is to stay in place, to remain inactive but always looking forward to an unachieved goal. To wait is to hope. All of Sister Julia’s life was a waiting. And all of her life was hoping. Vivacious and outgoing by nature, she was always looking forward — even impatiently — to the next desired goal, bringing her considerable creative energy to fulfillment. And the final years of her extreme debilitation were no less fruitful although, in the words of the poet, she could ‘only stand and wait,’” said Sister Alexa Suelzer in her commentary for Sister Julia Shea, who died Feb. 20.

“It was Sept. 14, 1916, in Malden, Mass., that Sister Julia saw the first day of her 90 years — 90 years of waiting,” said Sister Alexa. Julia Lenora Shea, the eldest of three children, was the daughter of Daniel and Ellen (O’Connor) Shea. She attended elementary and secondary school at Cheverus, Malden. She entered the Congregation at Maryhurst, Hyattsville, Md., where she received the name of Sister Marie Loretta. She pronounced first and perpetual vows March 11, 1937, and Jan. 23, 1943, respectively. Sister Julia earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in English from Indiana State University.

In 1937, Sister Julia began teaching upper elementary school children at St. Clement, Lansdowne, Md. On the East Coast, she either taught or served as principal at Holy Redeemer, Berwyn, and Ascension, Halethorpe, Md.; Dunblane, Washington, D.C.; and St. Rose, Chelsea, and Sacred Heart, Malden, Mass. Her ministry in education also took her to St. Joan of Arc and St. Philip Neri, Indianapolis; and Providence High School, Joliet, and Providence High School, New Lenox, Illinois. Sister Julia also spent seven years teaching at Marywood, Orange, Calif.

“After a well deserved sabbatical year at Notre Dame, Ind., Sister Julia undertook a new ministry — administrative assistant to the Most Rev. Daniel I. Ryan, Bishop of Springfield, Ill. From 1984 to 1997, she served in this capacity, departing only after her 80th birthday,” said Sister Alexa.

“One of her grade school pupils uses the word ‘fabulous’ to describe Sister Julia as a teacher — organized, fair, thorough, eager, demanding and lively. And a great fan of the Red Sox!” shared Sister Alexa.

Upon retiring from the diocesan office, Sister Julia provided convent service in Quincy, Mass. She came to the Woods in 2000.

“Decades ago when she was in high school, Sister Julia wrote for her school paper an account of a Sister of Providence who had died after 29 years in the Infirmary. She wrote: ‘The story of her deeds did not reach the ends of the earth, but who would not call her years of patient, cheerful suffering an extraordinary deed?’ Assuredly Sister Julia could not have anticipated that her own final years would place comparable demands upon her courage and patience,” continued Sister Alexa.

“Sister Julia leaves us as we begin Lent, or, in other words, as we wait for Easter. But for her, no more suffering, no more waiting. And from her place of fulfillment she encourages us: ‘Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord,’” said Sister Alexa.

The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Julia was celebrated Feb. 23 with her nephew, the Rev. Robert E. Hayes, presiding. She was preceded in death by all her siblings.

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