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Moving forward, exuding happiness: Sister Grace Marie Meehan

Sister Grace Marie Meehan, center, applauds during the Jubilee celebration for her sisters in 2016

In the 1970’s one of the sisters implementing earth-shaking new procedures for the Sisters of Providence was Sister Grace Marie Meehan, SP. At that time the words “corporate reflection, “Cor Unum,” and “simple sharing” became an integral part of the Sisters of Providence vocabulary. Sister Grace Marie was described by those who selected members for the Cor Unum team as “one of the great ‘little people’ of the Community,” someone “who exudes happiness.”

United and moving forward

“Cor Unum,” which means “One heart” in Latin, was a response to the call for renewal from Vatican II. It embodied the theme of this issue of HOPE, moving forward together. Sister Grace Marie, who is not ordinarily described as “little,” is a perfect example of that spirit of a united community always on the move.

Both of Grace Marie’s parents came from Donegal, Ireland. She loved to share her Irish heritage, teaching the Irish jig to her classmates, telling Pat and Mike jokes and declaring that St. Patrick’s Day should be a national holiday. 

In 1950, Sister Grace Marie began her teaching ministry as a Sister of Providence. She eventually taught grades one through eight. She claims she never did anything “that wasn’t my favorite.” She loved her students and they loved her in return — and still do, as she has kept in contact with many of her former pupils.

Happily doing the work

Sister Grace Marie listens to another sister at a community gathering

Gracie, as she is fondly called, has always been known as someone who does not fret and worry. A cheerful, giving person, light- hearted and happy. But she is also a risk taker who broke down barriers. In the 1960’s she was the school principal in Greenwood, Indiana. A well-qualified African American applied for a teaching job, and Sister Grace Marie hired her. When an angry parent insisted that her daughter be moved to another classroom, Sister Grace Marie refused. The woman took her child out of school. The teacher and the other students stayed.

Sister Grace Marie tells of her ministry from 1972 to 1976, as a part of the six-person Cor Unum team. She says the process, “made sisters realize they had a voice.” The goal was systemic change, to have all the sisters involved in decisions. It was hard for a lot of people as they had previously had most decisions made for them, she remembers. “Myself included. It taught me that I had a voice, and I needed to be heard, to push myself, to be grown up.”

Call to caring

From left, Sister Grace Marie Meehan, Providence Associate Betty Sloan and Sister Josephine Bryan enjoy one another’s company during the Providence Community annual meeting in 2019.

Her next ministry move was to administration in health care. There she found that her favorite part of her job was not pushing papers but caring for the sick. So, at age 50, she asked to study nursing. She was surprised to receive such a resounding “yes.” After becoming an RN (registered nurse), she served in the Sisters of Providence health care and in a nursing home in Maryland. Then she spent 19 years in the oncology department of Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois.

In her later years, Sister Grace Marie moved in with a close school friend after her husband died. A few years ago, her friend bought a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to be nearer her daughter. Sister Grace Marie moved with her. In New Mexico Sister Grace has ministered as a parish volunteer, from reading at Mass to helping count the weekly collection.

This was a move away from Gracie’s many friends. But she remains in close contact with the Community by means of a weekly Zoom call with Sisters of Providence Josephine Bryan, Mary Jo Piccione, Carolyn Kessler, Carolyn Glynn and Doreen Lai. They say her keen wit keeps them laughing and call her a grace; a great lady; an authentic, generous person and, of course, the queen of Cor Unum.

Sister Grace Marie will soon be leaving her friend to return to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She claims her friend won’t miss her too much because she has a new dog! The sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods look forward to sharing once again in Sister Grace Marie’s generosity, her light-heartedness and her contagious happiness.

Originally published in the summer 2022 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan is a volunteer in the Sisters of Providence Archives. A retired English professor, she enjoys her role as an archivist — answering queries, writing grants, and learning how to digitize collections.

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1 Comment

  1. Jackie Jones Thompson on June 20, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    I fondly remember Sr Grace Marie
    I worked as a nurses aid, then student nurse and yhen a LPN under her. She actually along with Sr’s Mary Jo, Anne Scott, Josephine Bryan and Sister Betty attended my wedding in 1981
    My maiden name was Jackie Jones
    I loved my time there!
    Please tell these ladies I have thought of them often over the years

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