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100+ year old sisters survive COVID-19

Sister Mary Roger Madden in September, just two months before she turned 100.

When 100-year-old Sister Mary Roger Madden, SP, was battling COVID-19 in mid-January, she said she wasn’t worried.

“You don’t live to be 101 by worrying. I have a lot of faith, so that helped a lot. I figured what would be would be. What’s going to happen is going to happen. I didn’t feel I had control of the situation,” she said.

And what happened was that she and 105-year-old Sister Marceline Mattingly, the Congregation’s two centenarians, both survived their bouts with COVID-19.

For Sister Marceline, things were touch and go for some time. She was sleeping nearly all the time and hardly eating or drinking. She began being offered “comfort measures” only, meaning if she woke food and water were offered but never pushed. Much to everyone’s delight, after more than 20 days of uncertainty, Sister Marceline was able to sit up, eat more and communicate some. She is still recuperating and regaining her strength. She remembers little about that month of her life.

105-year-old Sister Marceline Mattingly in March after surviving her January 2021 bout with COVID-19.

Just breathe

Sister Marceline does recall, “I prayed a lot. I prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My grandmother taught me that devotion as a child. Then, I took a breath in and let a breath out, over and over again.”

Sister Mary Roger recounts her experience. “I don’t remember very much about it, I just know I was very sick,” she said. “I felt very bad, but I can’t give you any descriptive. It was just like being very, very tired and no energy. I slept a lot.”


Sister Patricia “Pat” Linehan

Sister Pat Linehan, SP, Sister Mary Roger’s health care representative, accompanies Sister Mary Roger in her healthcare decisions. The two sisters have been friends for 67 years, Sister Pat said. Although she hasn’t been able to see her in person, Sister Pat says Sister Mary Roger is sounding like her old self. “She is asking questions about the political scene, the Church and the latest comings and goings in the Community. She is frequently better informed than I,” says Sister Pat.

Sister Betty Hopf

Sister Betty Hopf, SP, Sister Marceline’s health care representative, says Sister Marceline was more alert and aware before her illness. She is still sleeping a lot and is more confused than before her illness. “Some days she’s up and out of her room and some days she’s in bed all day. It’s up and down,” Sister Betty said.

How to live to 100

Our 105-year-old COVID-19 survivor, Sister Marceline Mattingly in February, continues to regain her strength.

Sister Betty said Sister Marceline once attributed her longevity to “genes, lifestyle and attitude.” She recounts that Sister Marceline did yoga for many, many years and would faithfully go to the Providence Hall exercise room nearly every day before the pandemic quarantines were in place.

“She has a strong determination to live and has never let anyone do for her what she can do for herself,” Sister Betty said.

And what is key to Sister Mary Roger’s longevity? She doesn’t know. “Nobody in my family lived this long. I don’t know what it is,” she says. “Of course, Marceline is a different story,” Sister Mary Roger says. “Her mother lived to be 107. She’s always trying to beat her.”

And what are Sister Mary Roger’s thoughts on the future?

“Oh, my dear, nobody at my age talks about the future. I’m ready when God is ready. I’m not afraid to die. I’ve lived a long and a more-or-less fruitful life; I did accomplish a few things here and there. I’m ready to go when He says come.”

The best is yet to come

Sister Mary Roger in December holds a cookie celebrating her 80 years as a Sister of Providence.

Sister Mary Roger said where she and Sister Marceline find themselves at in life reminds her of a picture she loves. It is of a little girl walking down a country road and holding hands with a person, probably her father. They are on a path heading toward a great light.

“It’s like a picture of where I am right now. I’m walking toward that light and God is walking with me. He will stay with me until we get there. So, what’s to fear? Right?”

“One of my favorite lines of poetry is: ‘the best is yet to be.’ And that’s the way I live these last days. The best is yet to be.”

(Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence and a staff member in their Advancement Services office. Amy is a 1998 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She currently manages the SP publication HOPE and works on marketing support for Providence Associates, new membership and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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