My friend Sr Josepha Clancy passed into eternal life on June 25. Her obituary and my small tribute were published in last week’s The Catholic Weekly:
About ten years ago I was working at my desk in the Catholic Weekly office when my phone rang. It was my friend Sr Josepha, who came in on Mondays to proof read the paper. I was glad since she was always good for a laugh and a chat. Notwithstanding a gap of more than 40 years between us I’d found that we had no shortage of things to talk about. She was the coolest older person I knew.
“Marilyn I’m really just ringing to let you know that I’ve been diagnosed with bone cancer,” she said. “I would hate for you to hear it from someone else.” She felt ok but she had to have a course of radiotherapy, and the doctor had given her a prognosis of ten years.
That sounded awful to me but she was unfazed. She’d be into her 80s by then, she said, and how long did a person want to live? “I’m grateful that at least I know how I will die,” she said. “It takes some uncertainty out of the equation, although it’s always possible I’ll get hit by a bus or something. But truly Marilyn, I think it’s a great blessing to know what you’re probably going to die from and to have time to prepare for it.”
It was a refreshing perspective, indeed, in a culture which doesn’t deal with death very well. In the years to follow whenever I asked Sr Josepha how she was the answer was usually, “I feel well, Marilyn, truly.”
She was always reassuring, always encouraging. She packed quite a lot into her life after retiring from the Weekly, including ministering to the elderly and to primary school children, illustrating to me how immature at 20-something I’d been to assume that anyone over 65 was ‘past it’.
Through our friendship she illuminated for me the inherent value of older people, of religious life, and affirmed and supported my commitment to marriage and family life. She practically talked me through my engagement, wedding, and birth of my first child, as my unofficial counsellor. When I think about the charitable way she put up with my incessant chatter I know I wouldn’t have had her patience. But then, her desk was right next to mine so I guess she was stuck listening to me yabber on every Monday!
With the blessing of her community she offered us the use of their little beach house for our first family holidays. We saw less of her recent years as our family grew larger and we got busier. But when we did catch up she had a sweet rapport with the children and I would always receive an encouraging thank you note in the mail or an email shortly after, signed off with ‘My love, Josepha’.
She was one of the sanest people I knew. She found consolation or humour in everything. Ageing brings its own challenges and sufferings, but she was always looking for the positives, the blessings, the silver linings. She told me that was how she had decided to approach her life and by now it was deeply ingrained in her.
When I think of Sr Josepha these things always stand out for me; her unfailing interest in people, her kindness, quick-wittedness, humility, and gratitude for God’s providence. In the two recent photos I have of her she is smiling in one and laughing in the other. I want to be like her when I grow up.
As a Sister of St Joseph of Orange in California she was called to “identify with the self-emptying love and obedience of Jesus Christ…die to self and live in God and for others”. In their varied ministries, including education and social justice ministries, the sisters strive to “imitate Jesus in his untiring zeal to bring about the kingdom of God; Mary in her constant fidelity to the Holy Spirit; and Joseph in his generous and unpretentious service”.
When I answered my phone last week to hear that Sr Josepha had died in her sleep it was a great surprise. I’m sure she would want us to also honour her sister in religion, Sr Celine Auton, who passed away recently after a long and intense period of illness.
She had such a gift for friendship. I know this because although I saw her less frequently I always felt cherished by her and knew that she regularly prayed for me and my family. I’m sure that everyone else in her life felt the same way.
We give thanks to God for you Sister Josepha. My love, Marilyn.
Learn more about the Sisters of St Joseph of Orange at http://csjorange.org/