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Sister Michaela Galvin

Sister Machaela Galvin was born Arline Clare Galvin on April 19, 1925, in Melrose, Massachusetts, to Joseph Galvin and Mary Downing Galvin. She had two brothers, Lorimer and Neil, and her sister, Marilyn, was born the following year. Marilyn would later follow her into community as Sister Mary Eleanor, said Sister Maureen Abbott in her commentary for Sister Michaela Galvin, who died on May 15, 2019, in Mother Theodore Hall at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Michaela was 94 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 75 years.

Sister Maureen continued: Michaela attended Cheverus Centennial grade school and then Cheverus High School in Malden, graduating in 1943. She went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in English at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1960 and a Master’s of Arts in English at the University of Notre Dame in 1967.

Because she entered the Congregation in July 1943, her novitiate experience was most unusual. The novitiate at Maryhurst, Maryland, had been closed when the property was sold to the government early in the war years, with the novices brought to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. However, a house across from the Immaculata was retrofitted to serve as the postulancy and it was there that she entered. After receiving the habit, she came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods the following January for her novitiate.

The early years of Michaela’s ministry were in Chicago. After a short six months at St. Mel-Holy Ghost, she went to Maternity BVM. Since it was such a short time since she had left home, as a return address on her letters, she would write Convent of Our Lady, for fear neighbors might suspect she was actually at a home for unwed mothers.

After her second novitiate, in February 1951, she returned to Chicago, this time at St. Leo. Sister Janet Gilligan, at the time a St. Leo’s sixth-grader, recalled that when the superior came in to introduce Michaela, she started by telling the class that their teacher would be leaving, at which point, they all burst into tears – quite the introduction for their new teacher standing there. Janet later grew to appreciate Michaela when she suffered no penalties for just sitting reading books instead of doing her lessons. Sister Marceline, too, remembers Michaela’s arrival at St. Leo’s, noticing a brownish tint to Michaela’s skin and discovering that she was a lot of fun, she dubbed her Teddy Bear Galvin.

Michaela next enjoyed several years close to home in Chelsea before returning to the Midwest, where her summer studies at Notre Dame prepared her to transition to appointments as a high school English teacher. In 1968, she returned to her alma mater, Cheverus, as superior and principal. These were years of great changes in society and in the church when previously normal routines were challenged. Sister Ruth Ellen Doane recalls a Sunday dinner when she, having grown up a landlocked Hoosier, was excited to announce that the surf would be high that afternoon and she would be driving to the beach to see the sight, if anyone wanted to come. Watching the full car pull out, some of the older sisters asked Michaela how she could allow this, to which she replied, “They’re all adults.”

Michaela was very devoted to her family, especially looking out for Sister Mary Eleanor, whom she affectionately referred to as “my sister the nun.” She remained close to her brother Neil and nephews Joe (here today) and Michael. She was grateful for the 1960’s and the changes in community practices that allowed her to care for her mother for several years. A story from this time affords another glimpse of her approach of life’s realities. During a time when her mother had to be in a health care facility, Michaela visited her mom one rainy day. In came the daughter of her mother’s roommate with a dripping umbrella. The roommate was convinced it was raining inside and kept imploring her daughter to open the umbrella. Finally, after listening to the daughter’s responses and seeing the futility of logic, Michaela sternly ordered the other visitor, “Open the umbrella.” She did, and the woman calmed down.

After her mother’s death, Michaela returned to teaching high school English at Immaculata, where the sisters who lived with her noticed her kindness with little attentions to different sisters in the 40-plus house. It was clear to them that her gruff exterior was simply a foil for her humor and wit. Always on the lookout for news to share about everyone’s comings and goings and plans, she could be counted on for lively conversation. Her election as part-time provincial councilor is evidence of their esteem, although the double responsibility required dividing her time between teaching and service to the sisters.

When Immaculata principal Sister Mary Clare became ill, Michaela stepped up to take over the administration of the high school at the very tense time when its closing was announced. Irate parents launched a lawsuit and even some employees sided with them. Sister Camille recalled that “Somehow, she was able to absorb all the tomatoes that were being thrown at us.” That the final class of graduating seniors adopted the attitude that they were “going out with class” is largely due to her efforts to make the year a wonderful one for them. Sister Mary Catherine Guiler remarked that she will ever forget till her dying day Michaela’s loyalty and diligence in staying through and helping out during the months of the final cleanup and closing of this storied institution.

From there, Michaela once again returned to her alma mater, Cheverus, where she also had the difficult role of bidding goodbye to the last class as the school closed.

Meanwhile, former Immaculata colleague Sister Joan Zlogar, had become principal of Mother Guerin High School in River Grove, Illinois, and was on the lookout for talent. She invited Michaela to take the position of campus director, overseeing the maintenance and earning her title among the faculty as “she who must be obeyed.” From her point of view, maintenance included supervision of evening events, so she would station herself at a rickety desk at the entrance to take note of the comings and goings. She would stay until the very last person had left so she could go out and lock the gate. When the new director of development, Mary Klemundt, offered to lock up, Michaela stiffly refused. “Well,” remarked Mary, “when they hired me, they failed to explain that stubbornness was part of the charism of the Sisters of Providence.” Not missing a beat, Michaela replied, “You will come to see our way is best.”

Even as she transitioned into substitute teaching, Michaela always had a book to keep her company during the down time. Concerned about the impression made by the gaudy covers on some of the paperbacks, her friends came up with a slipover book cover to disguise whatever might be the choice of the day. The extent of her reading became legendary, with a constant stream of donations forming the basis of her personal lending library even when she moved back to the Woods.

In 2000, Michaela came home to the Woods and volunteered as a companion to sisters on their visits to doctors, where her attentive ear helped them formulate questions and understand instructions. When she herself transitioned to health care, she continued her ministry of gathering the news and keeping others informed via a lively phone circuit until her hearing declined to the point that she discouraged visitors.

Sister Ruth Ellen Doane told me that she and Michaela shared the same birthday and that when Michaela turned 90, she told her she planned to die at 92 as that seemed a good age to die. When the 92nd birthday came round, Ruth Ellen asked her if this would be the year. “No, I’m shooting for 100. You don’t get much attention if you die at 92.”

Well, Michaela, you made it to 94 and you definitely have our attention for a Sister of Providence life well lived.

The Wake in was the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, May 24, beginning at 9 a.m., with the commentary at 11 a.m. The Mass of Christian Burial, with Reverend Daniel R. Hopcus presiding, immediately followed the commentary. Burial was in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence. The DeBaun Funeral Homes and Crematory assisted with arrangements.

Memorial contributions in Sister Michaela’s honor may be made to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Michaela in the comment section below.

Sister Michaela Galvin

Complete Ministry

In Illinois: Teacher, St. Mel-Holy Ghost, Chicago (1946); Teacher, Maternity BVM, Chicago (1946-50); Teacher, St. Leo, Chicago (1951-54); Teacher, St. Andrew, Chicago (1958-62); Campus Director, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1988-91); Permanent Substitute Teacher/Facilities Manager, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1991-98); Permanent Substitute, Chicago (1998-2000).

In Massachusetts: Teacher, St. Rose, Chelsea (1954-57); Classes Principal, Cheverus High School, Malden (1968-70); Teacher, Cheverus, Malden (1970-72); Assistant Principal/Teacher, Cheverus, Malden (1986-88).

In Texas: Teacher, St. John, Robstown (1957-58).

In Indiana: Teacher, Washington Catholic High School, Washington (1962-68); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2000-10); Volunteer at Providence Health Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2010-11).

In Washington, D.C.: Provincial Councilor at St. Raphael Province and Director of Christian Development and Teacher at Immaculata (1980-84); Principal, Immaculata (1984-86).

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  1. Avatar Christine Murphy on May 16, 2019 at 9:59 pm

    Sister Michaela provided strength and compassion during the final years of Immaculata Prep. in Washington, DC. May she rest in peace after a life of service.

  2. Avatar Mary Klemundt on May 17, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    I begin with some trepidation as I hold it as a very real possibility that, as I write this, S. Michaela will reach down, and with a heavenly red pen, start correcting my grammar!

    I was the newly-minted Development Director at Mother Theodore Guerin High School in the early ‘90s and S. Michaela was the Facilities Manager. I think I was only a couple of months into the job and we were clearing up after an evening meeting. I was trying to convince S. Michaela to give me her keys so I could run out and lock the front parking lot gates for her. I was no “young thing” at the time, but I was still considerably younger than Michaela—and my feet were in better shape. No matter. She was having none of it. She would no more think of passing off an onerous chore than fly. I told her it was hardly going to happen every night and there would be plenty of times, with winter ahead, when she could schlep out to Belmont Avenue and then over to 80th, most likely in snow and cold, and lock the gates, so why not take the help when it was offered? Nope. Not happening.

    In my frustration, I said, “You know, when I was hired, they failed to explain that stubbornness was part of the charism of the Sisters of Providence.” We were walking down the science hallway at the time and, without missing a beat, she replied, putting on her most arch and proper voice, “You will come to see that our way is best; and the sooner you learn that, the happier you will be here.”

    Of course, she was correct. It was the first lesson I learned from S. Michaela, but by no means the last. I will miss her dearly.

  3. Avatar Father Daniel Storrs on May 24, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Sister Michaela took time, during a 2018 Sunday brunch, to come over and chat with me after Mass. She inspired me to continue to pursue justice and inclusion in my ministry as a priest. She told me about many of her trials and triumphs during a lifetime of ministry, and the faith it took to face down ignorance. In our fairly brief conversation, she was truly a saint sent especially to me. We barely knew each other, Sister, but you left your mark of love and holiness on my heart, life, and vocation.

    Rest in peace and rise in glory, Sister!

  4. Avatar Mary Ann Simpson on May 24, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Beautiful eulogy. My sister Jane graduated from Immaculata with its final class in 1986. She was very fond of Sr. Michaela. One day, Jane and her friend Greta were driving down the road and somehow drove up beside Sr. Michaela. Greta rolls down her window, leans out and asks, “Hey, sister, wanna drag race?”

  5. Avatar Jeannette A List on June 3, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    I taught under Sister Mary Eleanor Galvin at St. Clement in Lansdowne. On a visit to the Woods, many years later, I met Sister Michaela. I was invited to lunch and sat between the two sisters. Sr. Michaela turned to me and said, “Now you can tell people you were Galvinized.” What a great sense of humor she had.

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