Sister Catherine White
So, what do you think … was EDITH CATHERINE WHITE anxious about what to wear, or eat, or drink, or anxious about meeting her Creator? I am not sure … but from what I know of Cathy, and from what I learned from glancing at her file, reading all the wonderful comments from her family, friends, co-workers, LGU members, our Associates … her sisters … I don’t think so. She wasn’t overly anxious because her faith was strong … even from a young age; her faith was strong … it carried her … it surrounded her … it emboldened her to action. I think you all would agree, said Sister Jan Craven in her commentary for Sister Catherine White, who passed away on Thursday, January 21, 2021, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 73 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 36 years.
Sister Jan continued: What Cathy was anxious about was her first name … there is a story that her mom went down to her first-grade teacher, who was a Sister, and said, “If you call her Edith, she will not respond … her name is Cathy!”
Edith Catherine White was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on April 15, 1947, to John E. and Frances McKee White. She was the oldest of four siblings: Francie, John and Sarah.
We welcome her family via livestream … her sister Francie and her husband Toby, her brother John and his wife Michelle, and her sister Sarah. Cathy was close to her seven nieces and nephews, seven great-greats, and two close cousins, Betsy and Helen. We thank you for giving Cathy to us; she often talked about her loving family.
Cathy’s early education in Pennsylvania included St. Agnes Elementary and Bishop Shanahan High School in West Chester, graduating in 1965. She then went on to East Whiteland, Pennsylvania, to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Immaculata University, graduating in 1969. It was after this that she was invited to relocate to Oklahoma, where she became the principal of St. Joseph School in Muskogee. It was her longtime friend, now Msgr. Greg Gier, who asked her to come and help save the Catholic School there. That school continues to exist today. She certainly made her mark on Catholic education across this country, as you will see.
While Cathy was in Oklahoma, she received her master’s degree in education from Oklahoma City University in 1975 and studied special education at Central State University. She could have been considered a student all her life, as she went on to take courses in administration from Northeaster State University in Oklahoma, El Camino College in Gardena, California, and studied for three months in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Cathy entered the Carmelites in Oklahoma and stayed for about a year – realizing a cloistered life was not for her. She then entered the Sisters of Providence on August 14, 1984. She took first vows on June 28, 1987, and final vows on August 15, 1992.
Just listen to the places Cathy was called to minister and live: St. Joan of Arc in Indianapolis; St. Agnes Parish in Evansville, Indiana; St. Joseph School in Hawthorne, California; Cuernavaca, Mexico; South Central Los Angeles; Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles; Gardena, California; Cherry Valley, California; San Bernardino Diocese in San Bernardino, California; and finally making the rounds back to our beloved Woods.
And what did she spend her life being and doing? Of course, teacher, pastoral associate, principal, Executive Director of LAMP, whose mission is to end homelessness and build self-sufficiency among individuals living with severe mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction. LAMP truly was a pioneer of permanent supportive housing in the United States, was founded on the conviction that homeless people living with a severe mental illness are more likely to succeed in all areas of their lives when they have a stable home … and Cathy was in on the ground floor of its foundation. It made perfect sense for her then to go on to become the Safe Environment Coordinator, and before coming home, Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in San Bernardino, California.
While I was sleuthing through her file, I found some quote from Cathy herself which will give us some insight into who she was as a Sister of Providence:
“I hope I bring providential charism to our students and parents. The families in school have helped me deepen my understanding of what it means to struggle.”
“The presence of sisters in the parish and school give the people hope. We try to empower the women of the area in many ways.”
“The people deeply affect my life … they show me a faith as deep as an artesian well.”
For almost 11 years, Cathy worked in the fifth largest diocese in the country, San Bernardino, ministering in response to the abuse crisis in our church. “Our office is the voice for the voiceless,” Cathy said. All her ministerial life, it seems, Cathy was the voice for those who had no voice.
There were many voices who shared stories of remembrance of Cathy. Just know that we would be here a long time if I shared them all, so this is just a snippet:
From Pat Ruck: Sister Cathy was my companion when I became a Providence Associate. Her heart touched mine during our time together. She was my mentor and inspiration.
From Brother Jim Reiter: I remember Sister Cathy from her days as principal at St. Joseph in Hawthorne. She was a wonderful woman!
From her good friend, Msgr. Greg: I will certainly miss her laugh and sharing of deep faith. Her great concern for others was so strong in all that she did.
From Dr. Marco Elias: I remember Sister Cathy as firm, clear, determined, courageous, and also a big heart and compassionate. We created the “Recovering-Me” Retreat, a Retreat for Victims and Survivors of Abuse, and I can say that many victims and survivors recovered, thanks to the compassionate ear and presence of Sister Cathy.
From Deacon Michael Jelley: In 2002, I accepted Bishop Barnes’ invitation to develop the Diocesan response to childhood abuse. We chose Sister Cathy to take responsibility for what was to become the Office of Child and Youth Protection. I believe her efforts have kept many, many children safe from harm, a legacy that will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.
From Jeannie Smith: Sister Cathy was a cherished part of our California Associate/Sisters of Providence Family. She was faithful at attending our gatherings and was always a sure and strong presence for us, sharing her sharp intelligence and caring wisdom.
From Sister Donna Butler: Cathy was such a strong support for Providence Volunteer Ministry. Eleven PVMs lived with her at St. Joseph in Hawthorne. I have contacted them and they have expressed how deeply grateful they are for that experience. For some, it was life-changing.
From Cathy’s sister, Francie: My sister Cathy was the oldest. I was next in line, so we were close. We were pals and were both in the band in school. Cathy played the clarinet. We were a musical family and she loved to sing. We were in an elite high school group of musicians called “The Crescendos.” Cathy and I did travel together … Hawaii, Alaska, Ireland, and many National Parks. It was in Muskogee that she met the Sisters of Providence.
From Sister Barbara Bluntzer: I think it was 1970 when I was in Oklahoma City as a teacher. The Diocesan Youth Minister put out a call for volunteers to help with a youth weekend retreat at one of the Oklahoma State Parks. I was assigned as a counselor and Cathy was my assistant. She always said that I was the first Sister of Providence she met.
From Terri Boland: I first met Cathy at a Women in Ministry Gathering in Chicago in 1986. Cathy was a postulant (and frankly, I thought she was too old to be a postulant) and shared with me hger life story that paralleled mine. Cathy and I continued a friendship after I entered the community and during the summer of 1996, we traveled to England, France and Ireland. In France, we visited Ruille and La Petite Providence. I found Cathy to be a seasoned traveler with an abundance of knowledge which made the trip interesting on many levels.
From another friend, Sister Carolyn Bouchard: Cathy’s love was middle school teaching … sixth and seventh-grade were her favorites. As young sisters, she and I competed with Kathy Newport and Susan Whitlow practical jokers we were. Cathy and I had hoped to resurrect our prankster hood in retirement. She had a phenomenal memory for trivia. She loved to travel and could give you highway and street names. I think she memorized the map atlas. Cathy was strong, faith-filled, prayerful and opinionated and usually right about her opinions. She was pasionate regarding her ministries. Her passion for child protection was born through her own story; she was a wounded healer. Cathy was fun to live withm, a good listener and a trustworthy, loyal friend. She loved her Sisters in community and was especially attentive, faithful, and good to Sister Helen Dolores Losleben. She always had an ear and a hug! She loved the members of her LGU and the California crew, often hosting gatherings at her home in San Bernardino. And Cathy loved nature. She could identify trees and signs of animal habitat. Pass any farmer’s field and she would tell what was growing in the field and when it would be ready for harvest. Cathy was raised on a dairy farm. She loved cows. She could tell you all the different breeds. As I sat in my chair while she was dying, I thought ‘Well, Cathy, I think the cows are going home — best get there for the milking.’ It was 11:30.
And so, you see … Cathy, you touched many people’s lives by sharing your countless gifts.
In recent phone calls with her sister Francie, Cathy would speak of the birdfeeder outside her bedroom window, so much so that her family gifted her with a book on Indiana birds. So, Cathy, perhaps you will have time to acquaint yourself with these Indiana birds because you know well your favorite Gospel message: Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, and yet your Creator in heaven feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? The Most High says you are of great worth and now you know how true it is as you are embraced by the loving arms of our Provident God.
Funeral services for Sister Catherine took place on January 29, 2021, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
A virtual wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by commentary and Funeral Liturgy without Eucharist at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Catherine in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Catherine to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Catherine White
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Joan of Arc, Indianapolis (1984-85); Pastoral Associate, St. Agnes Parish, Evansville (1986-87); Providence Phone Room, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2019-20); Residential Services, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2020).
In California: Principal, St. Joseph School, Hawthorne (1989-95); Executive Director-South Central LAMP, South Central/Los Angeles Ministerial Project, Los Angeles (1997-2000); Teacher, Notre Dame Academy, Los Angeles (2000-04); Safe Environment Coordinator, Diocese of San Bernardino, San Bernardino (2004-08); Director, Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, Diocese of San Bernardino, San Bernardino (2008-18).
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