Sister Stories


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Celebrating 65 years in God's service

Sixty-five years is a long time. It's longer than most people have been alive.

Sixty-five years ago the world was embroiled in World War II, home computers didn't exist, and TVs weren't in every living room.

But for Sisters Janice Ahearn, Cecilia Dooley and Miriam McCready, 65 years is a time to celebrate, for that is how long they've been nuns with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

The sisters entered the convent in 1942 and now all live at the Good Shepherd Center in Marlborough. The Center, on the grounds of New Horizons at Madonna Hall on Hemenway Street, was once the home of Madonna Hall, a school for girls grades 7-12 run by the sisters.

Photo by Contributed photo
From left, Sister Cecilia Dooley, Sister Miriam McCready and Sister Janice Ahearn

Sister Mary Eileen Foley, who taught at Madonna Hall before becoming principal, said the school was first located in Boston where it operated for 100 years before moving to Marlborough in 1964. When state funding dried up in 1985, the school closed and the property was sold. But the convent remained and was converted into an assisted living facility which currently houses about 27 Good Shepherd nuns.

The sisters were good enough to meet with me this week and tell me their stories. They are gracious women bound by their devotion to a religious life, to each other, and to what they describe as a calling from God.

Sister Janice Ahearn introduced herself first by her religious name, Sister Mary Regina Ahearn, and then by her legal name, Sister Janice Ahearn.

She will be 89 in August. Ahearn is well educated holding a bachelor's degree in math, and two master's degrees - one in library science and the other in remedial reading.

But the world she encountered as a woman in 1942 is very different from the world today. Ahearn attended St. Joseph's College in Brooklyn. Tuition was $100 a semester, and she wanted to major in math.

"I was told I was not allowed to major in math because that was not a field for women," she said. "So I threatened to leave."

As Foley said, "The sisters of the Good Shepherd have that kind of quality. They won't take no for an answer. They advocate and fight for the best."

Well, Ahearn didn't give up, the dean gave in, and she was allowed to continue as a math major.

Ahearn excelled in school but wanted to become a nun. "My mother didn't like me entering the convent," she said, "but I more or less always wanted to enter the convent."

Dooley's path was a different one. She was born and grew up in New York City. And, yes, she added, she is a Yankees' fan.

Dooley's mother died when she was 10, and she started having trouble in school. Her cousin, Michael, a New York City Police officer, sent her to the nuns for help.

"I was drawn to the sisters," she said. "That's what the Lord was calling me to. I felt I had a vocation."

At the age of 20, Dooley entered the convent. She is what is called a contemplative. These sisters are "the powerhouse of prayer" and support themselves by sewing and making alter bread.

"It's been a long religious life, 65 years, but a happy life," Dooley said.

McCready could not join us on Monday, but her longtime friend, Sister Virginia Fowler, told me about her life.

Like Fowler, McCready is from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both her parents died when she was young, and she was placed in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity. At the beginning of World War II, she worked in a factory. She entered the convent on Oct. 31, 1942.

Like Dooley, McCready is a contemplative. She did embroidery, loves music and "was pretty good at everything she tried," said Fowler. When the monastery in Halifax closed, the sisters moved to Windsor, Ontario and then to New York. And, finally to Marlborough.

Fowler was two years behind McCready and has known her for more than 60 years. "She is a good singer and loves to play cards."

On June 6, a Jubilee Mass was celebrated at the Good Shepherd Center. Sixty-five years may be a long time, but as Fowler said, "We would do it all over again."

(Elizabeth Banks is the west regional editor for the MetroWest Daily News. She can be reached at 508-490-7459 or by e-mail at [email protected].)

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