Sister Agnes Clare Buckley
“Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”
— Mark 8:34-35
This brief passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seems more than appropriate for Sister Agnes Clare’s commentary when coupled with the words of the Rev. Demetrius Dumm: “Our lives themselves are the cross we take up.” For about 30 years, Agnes Clare often found her cross in Massachusetts General Hospital, rehab facilities after broken bones or at the Marian Manor Skilled Nursing Center. Her good and faithful friend Carol McCarthy may have said it best: “Sustaining an upbeat sense of herself was her forte. I often wondered how she did it, and chalked it up to a deep faith, a real devotion to Mary and to Mother Theodore and to her prayer life, which was rich and profound,” said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Agnes Clare Buckley, who died Saturday, September 23, 2017, in Massachusetts. She was 80 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 61 years.
As we celebrate Agnes Clare’s life today, we offer our sympathy and prayers to her brother, James, called Joe by many family members, and to her sister, Cathie, and other relatives. Sisters of Providence, relatives and many friends gave Agnes Clare a beautiful send-off on the east coast with the Mass of Christian Burial on September 29. Agnes Clare had planned the service down to the last detail, which included her beloved Irish music. Joe kept checking the list of detailed instructions to be sure everything was just the way she wanted! Sister is buried among 22 other Sisters of Providence at Holy Cross cemetery in Malden.
Phyllis Marie Buckley was born to James and Agnes Enos Buckley in Malden, Massachusetts, on February 9, 1937. She attended St. Rose School in Chelsea for both elementary and high school, graduating high school in 1955. The year after high school, on February 2, she entered the Sisters of Providence as a postulant, receiving the name Agnes Clare. Later that same year, on August 15, she was received into the novitiate. August 15 was also the date of her first and perpetual profession of vows, in 1958 and 1963, respectively.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1960, one of the first groups of junior sisters to complete their degree before being sent on mission.
Sister Agnes Clare Buckley
Teacher for 42 years in schools in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts
In Illinois: Our Lady of Sorrows, Chicago (1960-61); St. Agnes, Chicago (1961-63).
In Massachusetts: Sacred Heart Malden (1965-71); St. Rose, Chelsea (1971-2009).
In Maryland: Ascension, Halethorpe (1963-65).
Sister Agnes Clare taught primary grades for five years in schools in Chicago and Halethorpe, Maryland, before returning in 1965 to her beloved Boston area where she remained in ministry for 52 years. She taught for six years in Malden, before being assigned to her alma mater, St. Rose, in Chelsea, which was to become an educational and faith-based oasis for children and families of many diverse cultures. She taught elementary grades there for 31 years and then served another seven years in various capacities. As her health permitted, she devoted many hours of service to St. Rose School and parish in religious education, as secretary and receptionist, as sacristan and working with Hispanic and Cambodian communities as they settled in Chelsea She coordinated the St. Rose Alumni group and did outreach ministry to the elderly and sick.
Agnes Clare shared her considerable cooking and baking skills freely. For years, she would work for days baking pies and cooking lasagna for police and firefighters who worked on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They all knew her for she taught most of them! She, along with other sisters, would knit and crochet year-round, making scarves, baby sets, hats, sweaters and afghans for the annual St. Rose bazaar and for family, sisters, friends and medical staffs.
These years, of course, were interrupted by the extraordinary event of her heart transplant in 1989, the first woman to undergo the surgery, and at her death, the longest-living heart transplant survivor. Her heart problems were compounded by a history of severe asthma and being prone to pneumonia and congestive heart failure. She suffered cardiac arrest in 1988 and had an excruciating and challenging wait-period of more than a year before receiving her new heart, that of a 30-year-old woman. No wonder that she exclaimed just a few days after surgery, “I haven’t felt this good in 15 years! It’s a miracle! Mother Theodore came through for sure!” Sister became an advocate for organ donation, often speaking to groups and to news stations. She was also a member of two heart transplant support groups in her area.
As her niece Patrice observed in her eulogy, “although the stories about my Aunt Phyllis by the many who knew her were difficult … my aunt made an impression on whomever she met.” She went on to articulate the impressions her aunt made on her through the years. “I don’t think many of you here today can say they were babysat by the dynamic duo of Sister Agnes Clare and Sister Caroline Hatch. That made an impression.”
Patrice was also impressed by Agnes Clare’s love for planning a party – St. Rose reunions, Patriots or Red Sox teams, family occasions, St. Patrick’s Day – “she could plan a party for any occasion or for no occasion at all!” she remarked. And as was observed by one of her sister housemates, “from her walker, Agnes Clare would control it all.”
For the last three years, she has been a resident at Marian Manor in South Boston, where she continued a ministry of prayer and presence until her death. I contacted Marian Manor and some staff and residents shared their memories of Agnes Clare.
The admissions director, Christine Cooke, said “Sister Buckley was one of my personal ‘special’ residents. Sister was always upbeat and so positive. She had such an amazing spirit about her and she was held in high regard.”
A few nurses commented as well:
“Sister was an angel on earth. It was an honor to care for her.”
“Sister Buckley always offered emotional support to the families and their loved ones.”
Some residents’ comments included:
“I loved Sister Agnes Clare from the first moment I met her.”
“I never thought I could play Scrabble with a nun who was a teacher for so long.”
Sister Agnes Clare also supported others with cards and phone calls. Her brother and others noted that if you asked Agnes what she wanted, she would say stamps, and not books – rolls! Sister Mary Fran Keusal, a band member, noted that, “If Agnes knew that someone had an ingrown toenail, she sent that person a card. I know how many cards she sent because I made hundreds and hundreds of return address labels for her.” We in the Mission Advancement office lost count of the number of Saint Mother Theodore prayer cards and remembrance cards we sent Agnes Clare over the years. Sister Rosemary Borntrager was a special friend and experienced first-hand Agnes Clare’s ministry of writing to the sick. She heard from her every week during her stays in Providence Health Care and they would often phone each other during the year.
Sister Mary Catherine Guiler remarked, “During the last few months, she would sit with the dying at Marian Manor. She said she was asked to do that and she loved it. A number of priests she knew from St. Rose were patients at the manor during her time there and she visited them faithfully, often making rounds at bedtime.”
Sister Jane Iannaccone recalled that “sister spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital, both as an inpatient and outpatient and I believe her ministry was to the other patients and staff she encountered there. One of the parishioners from my parish was at Mass General for a biopsy and was very anxious and nervous. The two of them started talking and Agnes asked her if she knew me. They had quite a conversation and Agnes helped to ease her anxiety. When she heard of sister’s death, she emailed me to remind me how helpful and kind Agnes was to her that day.”
Agnes Clare’s kindness to others was reciprocated by family members, priest friends and Sisters of Providence, who remained devoted and attentive to her through her many years of illness. Sister Claire Hanson would call Agnes almost daily and would take two or three buses/trains to visit her often at Marian Manor.
Agnes Clare had told Joe that she wanted Sisters of Providence with her when she died. She got her wish. Providentially, Sisters Danielle and Irma decided to visit Agnes Clare after an SP and associates meeting in the area. They renewed their vows together, said the reunion prayer with her, and then Danielle said, “Agnes, you can go now,” and she slipped away.
As Agnes Clare shouldered the cross of her daily life, she modeled the saying, “as long as we live, we must plan to live.” Mother Theodore was her favorite “go to” saint and she expressed many times to Sister Claire Hanson that she had “lots of questions for Mother Theodore and was looking forward to a long visit with her in heaven.” How appropriate that she died in late September, in time to celebrate Mother Theodore’s feast with her in heaven on October 3. No doubt that visit has already taken place. Agnes Clare, we rejoice with you!
Funeral services for Sister Agnes Clare took place on Thursday, September 28, and Friday, September 29, in Revere, Massachusetts.
A Wake took place from 4 to 7 p.m., on Thursday, September 28, at Smith Funeral Home, Chelsea, Massachusetts. Funeral services were at 8 a.m., on Friday, September 29, at the funeral home, followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 9 a.m., at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, Chelsea.
A Celebration of a Memorial Mass for Sister Agnes Clare took place on Thursday, October 27, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
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