Sister Edwardine McNulty
“There are a variety of gifts, but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same God; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good person. All these works are of one and the same Spirit, who distributes different gifts to different people just as the Spirit chooses.”
— A reading from 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 11
As all who knew Sister Edwardine will attest, God gifted her with a variety of gifts, and if there was any service to be done, Edwardine was there using her gifts, working alongside others whose giftedness and differing personalities she was able not only to accept, but also to nourish and encourage, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Edwardine McNulty, who died on Sunday, Jan. 18. She was 96 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 78 years.
Who of us would not be thrilled to be described after death as “a real community woman,” and as “universally loved,” and as “one of the most positive persons I’ve ever met.” Such were the words spoken of Edwardine by sisters who knew her, some for most of her life of 96 years.
Veronica Eileen McNulty was born to Edward and Veronica Cassidy McNulty in Chicago on March 1, 1918. She had three brothers: William, who was lost in World War II; and James and Donald, both of whom are deceased.
At last count, she had 11 nieces and nephews and 28 grandnieces and grandnephews. Through the years, she remained very close to her brothers and their families, enjoying visits when possible and carrying on quite a correspondence with many.
She attended grade school at St. Frances of Rome, Cicero, Ill., and was a proud graduate of Providence High School in Chicago, returning there for the reunion each year and in 2012, at age 94, receiving the “oldest in attendance” accolade. The month after her graduation, she entered the Sisters of Providence, July 16, 1936.
Jan. 23, was a special date for her: Her reception into the novitiate in 1937, her first profession of vows in 1939, and her profession of perpetual vows in 1945. No doubt she is pleased that her wake is on Jan. 23, as well.
Sister Edwardine earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s in education from Indiana State University.
We would be here the rest of this afternoon and into the evening if I were to name all the places Sister Edwardine ministered and in what capacity. Her ministry through the years covered only three states and the District of Columbia, but within various cities (Chicago, Downers Grove, Indianapolis, Linton and Clarksville). She was renowned as a grade and high school teacher and an elementary school principal, ministering in school-related venues for nearly 33 years.
Sister Camille Neubauer had Sister Edwardine as a fifth-grade teacher. She remembered her as “the best teacher I ever had, lots of fun, yet a stickler for discipline.” And Camille was convinced that Edwardine was also the smartest teacher ever because she could catch the boys who acted up in the classroom.
Sandwiched among her various educational ministries was her service for a total of 11 years in Congregation leadership in the mid-60s and 70s, rather turbulent years in religious life: As regional superior residing in Galesburg for four years and as provincial superior residing in Park Ridge for three years and as a member of the General Council at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods as Director of Apostolic Works for four years. These were the years of the closing of many of our high schools, a very painful letting go for sisters who had been so involved in some of them for many years. After her leadership role in the Congregation, she returned to the school scene for another seven years.
After a year’s sabbatical experience in Spokane, she returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1983 and served in the Mission Advancement Office as coordinator of the phonathon for five years. Then, she answered the call to go to Tustin, Calif., and spent several years with her dear friend, Sister Ann Michael, ministering in the parish office and as coordinator of the Marywood Alumnae Association.
Sister Alexa Suezler described Edwardine as “a person who saw things to do and was willing to do them, even if she didn’t have much prior knowledge or experience about a situation.” And, she added, “she was extremely easy to live with.”
In recent days at Mass, we’ve been hearing about Jesus’ struggles with the Pharisees, who accused him of breaking the rules. Two instances recounted to me by Sister Margaret Kern illustrate that Edwardine, too, put compassion before rules.
Sister Margaret related that she and another young sister who had just taken final vows were on their way to their assignment in Fort Wayne, driven by a lay woman. The other sister announced that she would have to have the windows down or she would get car sick. Now, it was the dead of winter! The driver decided to stop at a convent in route so they could all get a hot drink. The companion-sister announced that the sisters would have to wait in the car because they did not have permission to go inside. The driver went alone to the convent and shortly thereafter appeared a sister – Edwardine – who told the young sisters to go to the convent and get out of the cold. The zealous companion-sister reiterated again the “no permission” speech, to which Edwardine replied, “Sister, I’m giving you permission!”
Sister Dorothy Drobis’ remembrance of Edwardine’s compassion-over-rules goes back 50 years, to the time of her father’s death. Sister Edwardine was her companion to her home. They had made arrangements to stay with sisters at a local hospital, since this was before the days of staying with one’s family. When Edwardine found out that Dorothy’s mother would be alone that night, she informed Dorothy that they would stay with her mother and she canceled their rooms at the hospital.
After Edwardine retired, she was still very involved at the motherhouse. She remained active in LGU. Sister Margaret recalled how extensively she would prepare the materials, underlining things in red, bracketing or checking other areas, etc.
One time, I told her she needed to ‘lighten up.’ Shortly after that, she told me that she had joined the Informational LGU. However, a little later, she informed me that she had joined another regular LGU. She couldn’t stand not being more involved,” Sister Margaret said.
When walking became very difficult, Edwardine finally agreed first to a walker and then to an Amigo. Margaret shared that periodically, they would meet at the front entrance of Mother Theodore Hall and tool around together to various places on the campus. She recalls their first visit to the outdoor statue of Mother Theodore.
“We spent a long time there, in quiet and in sharing, solving the problems of the community and the world,” Sister Margaret said. “All of a sudden, Edwardine looked at me and laughed, saying, ‘Margaret, did you ever think we would come to this!’”
Edwardine was an excellent example of “aging gracefully,” and as one who was seen as a “wisdom figure” among us. At age 88, she accepted the invitation to serve on the first Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Shrine Committee in 2007. She was appointed because she had exhibited continued interest in both having a shrine and in its nature and location.
After her recent fall and continuing failing health, Edwardine still remained positive and concerned for others. When asked how things were going, she would respond in almost mantra-style, “I’m just going with the flow.”
It seemed a perfect response from someone who had “gone with the flow” all 78 years of her life as a Sister of Providence. We would do well to remember her words as we negotiate the uncertainties of our own lives.
Funeral services for Sister Edwardine took place on Friday, Jan. 23, and Saturday, Jan. 24.
A wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Friday, Jan. 23, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Saturday, Jan. 24.
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