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Sister Estelle Scully

S. Estelle ScullyAfter that, Jesus appointed a further seventy-two and sent them in pairs before him into every town and place he intended to visit…. Jesus now called the Twelve together and …sent them forth to proclaim the reign of God.
Luke 10:1; 9:1,6

In St. Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ public ministry is presented as a single pilgrim journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. How fitting this journey is for this Holy Week time and the celebration of the life of Sister Estelle Scully. During her years of ministry, like the seventy-two and the twelve, she also went forth to spread the good news across the United States. And now her journey is completed, said Sister Rosemary Borntrager in her commentary for Sister Estelle Scully who died March 20, 2013.

It all began in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 10, 1926, when a baby girl was born to Vincent Scully and Estelle McKiel Scully. She was baptized Joan Estelle and later in religious life chose her mother’s name of Estelle. She had one brother, Vincent, named after their father and affectionately nicknamed “Chubby.” He is recently deceased.

Joan knew the Sisters of Providence well, having attended St. Athanasius grade school and Marywood High School in Evanston. Upon graduation she went to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College where she received a BA in 1948, with a major in English composition and Journalism. Later, in 1961 she earned a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame. These courses served her well over the years.

After graduating from the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Joan worked for a year before entering the Sisters of Providence in 1949. Sister Estelle professed first vows on Jan. 23, 1952, and made her final profession on the same date in 1957. From 1952 until 1961 she taught upper grades at St. Mary Carmelite in Joliet, Ill., and then high school at Central Catholic in Fort Wayne and Schulte in Terre Haute, Ind., and Marywood in Anaheim, Calif.

Estelle was dedicated to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and the College there. Reunions with her classmates were treasured times for her. From 1961 to 1971 she served not only as assistant professor in the English department at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) but also as the Alumnae Director. In the latter capacity during the fund drive for the construction of the Library, she organized the support of alumnae groups from coast to coast. It also was the first step into her future years of ministry when she would travel literally across the nation serving various dioceses in the areas of communication, media and development.

How did this all begin? In the transcript of an oral interview, Estelle explained that while she was teaching at SMWC, the need arose for another course in the English department. She presented the idea for a media course and received approval to pursue it. So in 1968 she studied film criticism at Fordham and at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures. Later she would also spend a month in England and Ireland attending film screenings and visiting filming sites. That set her on the road she would follow for several decades and took her to a position in New York as film critic for America magazine. It was a good thing that she enjoyed traveling! Branching out from there, she served with Paulist Communications in Colorado for its territory west of the Mississippi. Then, as the Director of Communications, she ministered for the Diocese of Orlando and Archdiocese of Miami in Florida, in Arkansas as Associate Director of TV/Communications, and also worked in communications for the Catholic Telecommunication Network of America (CTNA) in New York and then was transferred to Washington, D.C.

In announcing her appointment in 1987 as Affiliate Relations Manager for CTNA in D.C., its president wrote, and I quote, “CTNA is fortunate to engage for this critical position a Catholic communicator with as deep and rich a background as Sister Estelle. She understands both print and electronic media, knows CTNA from the Affiliate side, and is thoroughly familiar with the varied needs of Catholic dioceses and other institutions in the United States.”

But Estelle’s favorite ministry was her last, in Wyoming where she traveled extensively through the Cheyenne diocese which comprised the entire state. In 1997 she returned to the Woods. Here she would often talk about her long trips in Wyoming, driving the bishop to the parishes in his diocese, and about how gorgeous the scenery there was. Photos on her walls proved her point.

Estelle loved her family, and her family loved her. Sister Marceline Mattingly recalls that while they were studying at Notre Dame in 1961 her father would call her daily, at any time of the day. Often Estelle would be at class or at meals. But he would leave a message which was dutifully posted, open-faced, on her door where everyone could read it. It always ended “From your doting dad.”

Sister Margaret Kern, her college classmate, often traveled with Estelle. She notes that Estelle was a very prayerful woman and deeply devoted to Mary. On those trips if they noticed a shrine of Mary along the way, Estelle would insist that they stop to visit and pray. But even so Estelle never was one to carry her religion on her sleeve.

As Estelle grew more frail, she moved into Lourdes Hall in 2008. It was about that time that she was diagnosed with beginning Alzheimer’s. This was a blow to her. From that point on she began preparing for what she knew would come. One thing she desired was to be anointed while she still realized it and had her friends around her. So one afternoon she gathered us on the fourth floor sun porch of Lourdes while Father Dan performed the anointing. It was a touching occasion and meant a lot to her. As the years passed, her quick temper, which sometimes made her become quite agitated, quieted.

Finally in March of 2012 the decision was made for Estelle to move into the West Wing. She found this move very difficult, but soon came to love her new room and life there. Looking out the window of her room she could see the power house, which for quite a while she thought was the gymnasium at Marywood High School, her alma mater. She loved to watch the people walking past her window and the birds at the feeder. She would say her favorite things were meals, activities, and being offered chocolate. Just mention “Hershey bar” and her face lit up. In our conversations I was deeply moved by the depth of her prayer and thoughts during this time of quiet waiting and often wished I had recorded them.

This went on until last Thanksgiving time. It was then that a rapid change began, losing weight, losing interest, finding it difficult to hold a conversation, and finally a few weeks ago losing the ability to really recognize others any more. Her wish for years now had been to “go home.” Even so her final change began very quickly last Monday afternoon.

By Monday night she was on oxygen and it was clear that her condition was serious. During the late night Father Dan came over to anoint her. The prayers were beautiful and meaningful. We did not know how much she understood or how awake she was. She had been lying there still, eyes almost closed, for several hours now with her hands on her chest, breathing with difficulty. At the end when Father Dan blessed her, we watched in awe as her right arm raised up and slowly and deliberately she touched her forehead, chest, and each shoulder, finally resting her hand again on her chest. She did know!

Sister Estelle’s long journey to Jerusalem was about to come to an end very fittingly in the season of Lent, with her passing last Wednesday and with the Mass of Christian Burial now in Holy Week. But her life is only changed, not taken away. You are now with your loving God, Estelle, where you have longed to be for years. May you rest in peace! Amen, concluded Sister Rosemary.

The funeral Mass for Sister Estelle was held March 27, 2013 with burial at the Sisters of Providence cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Sister Estelle was 86 years old and had lived as a Sister of Providence for 63 years.

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