Biographies

Sister M. Christella Furey, MM

Born: October 11, 1908
Entered: December 6, 1931
Died: October 7, 1996

She loved to dance and it showed!

Had Sister Christella come upon this Maryknoll turf about fifty years later she would have been the one to do the first liturgical dance up the Motherhouse aisle!

Had she come upon this earth sixty years later she would have been the Sally Ride of her day, then applied to Maryknoll when she returned to Earth!

Had she come upon this earth fifty years later she would have gently nudged Ginger Rogers out of center stage and then would have forsaken the footlights at the height of her career for the fascinating world of Maryknoll!

Sister Christella loved her Maryknoll life from start to finish and it showed!

She loved Mother Mary Joseph as her friend, her mentor, a role model who could share her zest for life and its fullness. Mother early on recognized the gift of this woman – her keen perception, her sense of humor, her gentle disposition, her deep conviction that any job worth doing was worth doing well. So she was eventually appointed to be Mother’s secretary, and joined the motley group who could have earned the title “The Boiler Room Girls” – Sisters Baptista, Marie Jogues and Alacoque. They lived by the need of the moment, not by the clock. In the early 1930’s Maryknoll Sisters Community was still creeping, so much “upsizing” was needed and the Boiler Room Girls were Mother Mary Joseph’s and Sister Columba’s stokers of the fire.

Though she appeared to many to be a shy reserved person she always seemed to have a loving secret pact with her God and it was manifest in a warm look, a smile, or just a kind peaceful quiet observance.

Claire Rita Furey opened her eyes to what was to be her wonderful world on October 11, 1908, and just eighty-eight years later she is being moved to her final resting place in our Maryknoll Cemetery, half a continent away from her native Omaha, Nebraska. She quietly withdrew from her earthly existence on October 7, 1996, at 6:30 p.m., on the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary.

Mary E. Devine and John F. Furey were the parents of Claire, Joseph, John, Thomas, Mary and Margaret. Through the years she maintained a close relationship with her family.

Claire attended Sacred Heart Grammar and High Schools in Omaha. She had chosen business as her profession, and became a member of the staff of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, one of the prestigious health care groups of its time, and a forerunner to many of the health care insurance systems today. Though she, like Harry Truman, never received a college degree, she took many courses along the way in order to enhance and upgrade her skills.

Claire entered Maryknoll December 6, 1931, and received the name of Sister Mary Christella. She made her First Profession on June 30, 1934, and three years later made her Final Vows in Hong Kong, to where she had been assigned in 1936. In 1942 she was interned at Stanley Camp, then Kweilin and eventually Chungking. At this time she served as a secretary in the United States Army as the Sisters were in the company of this protective group as they fled north to safety. When questioned about her duties at the military office – it had been mentioned that she was the secretary to General Westmoreland, the commanding officer of the area – she refused to confirm or deny.

In 1946 she was back in Hong Kong, then returned for Decennial, then another stint in Hong Kong, then a final return to the States in 1956 where a demand was made on her time and ability for Maryknoll Fathers’ work. Even as a Novice she had been the perfectionist as the operator of one of the more intricate ‘technologies’ of the day.

From 1963 until 1972 she worked with Father Ed McDevitt in the insurance and travel department of the Fathers. Her experience at Mutual of Omaha had given her insight and expertise in the insurance field. Travel desk was a real delight as far as she was concerned. There were “promotions” and “perks” and her co-worker was generous in including her many times. The big one in her life was the inauguration of helicopter service between White Plains and Manhattan. This she enjoyed to the fullest, and was wont to brag and chide the “un-helicoptered” about this little goodie which had come her way. In June 1972 Father McDevitt wrote to then president, Sister Barbara Hendricks: “For the past nine years it has been both my pleasure and privilege to have Sister Christella as my secretary. I will be leaving this office shortly for health reasons. I wish you to know how much I and all the Fathers here have appreciated Sister Christella’s devotion to Maryknoll and the work to which she has been assigned. I have found her deeply loyal to the Society, entirely proficient in her work even under circumstances that have been irksome and trying. In nine years together we never had a single misunderstanding nor did I once have to offer the slightest correction. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for her devoted service. She is truly a credit to the Maryknoll Sisters and will always be held by me in the most grateful esteem.” Other Treasury Department members in adjoining offices had dubbed them “the odd couple” – indeed, never was a harsh word or raised voice ever heard. That alone was odd!

In July 1975 she requested a transfer to Monrovia. Here again she found happiness and the opportunity to help make the Earth a better place.  She became a Eucharistic Minister at the parish church, visited assigned hospitals and nursing homes, saw to many of the needs around the convent, served several years as the elected assistant coordinator, and was usually the first to suggest a party and always dancing. She was a great story-teller, and her Monrovia Keeping In Touch was one of the Congregation’s most widely-read newsletters, and there was genuine regret when she was no longer able to produce it.

In 1992, quite aware of her diminishment and health, she requested a return to the Motherhouse which was effected very shortly. She was able to appreciate the many things which had been done to enable the less-active and less-healthy Sisters to enjoy those things which had always been such a concern of Mother Mary Joseph for her Sisters – that they would be properly and lovingly cared for after they had labored in the heat of the mission day, and when active mission was no longer theirs.

During her years in the nursing home her writer’s ability did not totally desert her, and she wrote two items about her life there: Fourth Floor Residence in 1993 and Update in 1994. In these she expressed her appreciation and gratitude to all:

“A podiatrist comes once a month and keeps our feet in dancing order.”

“The nurses are well-supplied with pills and smiles which they disburse in equal measure. Their supply of pills never seems to diminish. And all the while the smiles flash. Semper Fidelis!”

“Some Sisters have a roommate but some of us have to go it alone.”

“Bridge, Scrabble, and Bingo have their devoted adherents. However, for the present, falling seems to be the favorite indoor sport. No particular day or time is scheduled for the ‘performance’ – entrants are awarded a cane, walker, wheelchair, or complete rest in the hospital, depending on the number of bruises one can display. Encores are frowned upon.”

“The aides and housekeeping staff seem to be in amiable competition to see who can give us the best care. Right now it is even Steven.”

“Meet our ‘launderettes’ who seemingly live between two worlds – basement and fourth floor. Their carts, like tanks, keep rolling along the corridors. They fill the closets then return to the elevator for another ride down. Up with the clean – down with the soiled! Keeping us clean is their motive.”

She was ever aware of the employee staff, the doctors, the volunteers, her Sisters, and all who helped to make life worth living, and thus her gratitude knew no bounds.

Today we have two of her old faithful friends with us for the celebration of the Eucharist – Maryknoll Fathers Ed Manning and Ed McDevitt. Truly they have been just that over the years, faithful friends.

May she continue to celebrate with her God, the angels and saints, and all of her family and friends who have gone before her as she now continues her dance along heavenly ways.

She loved to dance, and may it continue to show!