Sister Alice Walsh (formerly Sister Julia Therese)
“That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat nor your body and how you are to clothe it.”
—– Matthew 6:25-26
“So Jesus went round all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues announcing the good news of the kingdom.”
—– Matthew 9:35
Those of us who knew Sister Alice well will understand why I chose these passages from scripture. As I continue, they will become self-evident. It is well know that teaching was her passion, but food was just something necessary, said Sister Mary Mark Dede in her commentary for Sister Alice Walsh, who died on Tuesday, Feb. 24. She was 81 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 62 years.
Before continuing, I would like to acknowledge the blessing of these commentaries. They were implemented by Sister Luke Crawford when she was on the Provincial Team here at the Woods. As our sisters return to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, often frail and weak, we do not realize the tremendous gifts they have been as Women of Providence. It gives us the gift of knowledge.
How many of us knew that Alice and her partner were roller skating champions? After high school, her partner skated professionally, but Alice chose to work for a short time and then entered the Sisters of Providence. Sister Alice ministered in schools in Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
When Immaculata closed, Sisters Alice and Annette Cecile applied to Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach, Fla. Imagine their surprise when they learned that Sister Mary Louise O’Connor had applied to the same academy! All three were accepted and supplied with a car and living quarters. They spent many weekends exploring south Florida. Sister Alice loved it and became a much more relaxed person. By the early 90s, Sister Annette Cecile and Sister Mary Louise had moved to other ministries, but Sister Annette Cecile returned after one year to the west coast of Florida. We had about a dozen Sisters of Providence on the Gulf side. Sister Alice would frequently drive over.
At this time, I was teaching at Sacred Heart School in Pinellas Park. The principal had resigned and the pastor asked if I knew of a Sister of Providence who would come as principal. I called Sister Alice, and although she did not want to go back into administration, she did want to be near more Sisters of Providence. That was when I became her close friend and confidant for the next 25 years. At Sacred Heart, she made order out of chaos. We added a second first-grade classroom, so Sister Alice hired an experienced teacher who also had a master’s degree. The first day of school, several parents went to the principal’s office asking that their children be placed in the older first-grade classroom. The new teacher was black. Sister Alice listened, but wisely said, “Mrs. Davis will stay, but you certainly are free to place your children in another school.” Every child stayed!
At the end of that first year, the upper grades math teacher had to resign because her husband was transferred out of state. Immediately, Sister Alice hired herself and resigned as principal. There could not have been a better teacher. If the students did not understand the math, Alice offered to help them after school. They would ask her each day if she was going to be “open” after school. Finally, a seventh-grade student made a sign for her door with “open” on one side and “closed” on the other. At least four days out of five the sign read “open.” Every year, there was a new principal, so Sister Alice accepted a position as math teacher at Saint Cecilia School in nearby Clearwater. She was greatly valued and continued after retirement to spend her days at Saint Cecielia’s teaching math to small groups who needed help. When she returned to the motherhouse, Saint Cecilia School gave her a cell phone so that she could keep in touch. It was not just the cell phone – they paid the bill.
Some of Sister Alice’s happiest days were the winters her sisters Peachie and Doris spent in Florida. Every weekend, the three of them went to yard sales and the mall. No one loved finding a bargain more than Alice! Speaking of bargains, for many years Sister Alice colored her hair. Sometimes on a Monday morning, I’d look at her and just, “ALICE!” Her reply: “But it was on sale!”
One of Sister Alice’s nephews lived in Sarasota He had a high fever as a small child and as a result, was mentally challenged. One day, Sister Alice made him a piece of toast with butter. From that time on, he would say, ‘Buzzy is a good cook.” She loved to repeat that because Buzzy (her family nickname) was NOT a good cook. Her idea of a good meal was her morning banana, toast and real butter. Later in the day, it was bread, peanut butter and tea. For Alice, this was her banquet. It was not until she returned to the motherhouse that she was diagnosed with celiac disease and all food had to be gluten-free.
A few years before she returned to the motherhouse, Alice was on her way to school when she had to make a detour. She was in unfamiliar territory and was in a serious accident. By the time I got to the ER, they were transferring her to ICU with a serious concussion, but no broken bones. She was in ICU for several days. When my sister and I went to the garage to get personal items, we were amazed that she lived. The car was completely totaled. Just a few weeks ago, she called to tell me of her concerns. She said, “I’m saying things I don’t intend to say, but they just come out.” I felt it was still a result of her accident.
Alice dearly loved her nieces and nephews. She prayed for them constantly. She could not have a greater gift than those last days her nephew Johnny spent at her bedside.
I would be remiss not to mention the hospitality of the sisters in Wakefield. She always knew that she had a home away from home. The flowers by the casket were their last gift.
Alice spent her last days lovingly cared for by our staff and hospice. She was surrounded in prayer by her community and Father Dan. When I was in high school, our religion teacher was also one of our chaplains. The one thing I will always remember is this statement: “The Sisters of Providence will always be blessed because they take such loving care of their sick.” Alice was blessed with that care. I have no doubt that she skated into heaven for a joyous reunion with her friends and family and a thank you to God for her life as a Sister of Providence.
Rest in peace, Alice. You will be missed.
Services were Friday and Saturday, Feb. 27 and 28.
A wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 27, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Saturday, Feb. 28.
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