Biographies

Sister M. Ellen Durfee, MM

Born: September 17, 1901
Entered: October 15, 1925
Died: November 8, 1976

“The Sisters tease me about carrying JOY around with me during retreat.” These words of Sister Mary Ellen Durfee expressed in 1968 are more a description of her attitude towards life than a reference to Louis Evely’s book entitled, Joy. For those who knew Sister Mary Ellen Durfee before her illness in 1962, her very presence symbolized vitality, an enviable and delicate sense of humor and a magnanimity and gracious hospitality akin to Mother Mary Joseph’s own. She was, as one Sister described her in the language of her day, “a priceless pearl loved by all possessing sterling qualities.”

Eunice Ruth Durfee was born on September 17, 1901 in Hydetown, Pennsylvania. In 1925 she entered Maryknoll. On the feast of Saint Catherine of Sienna, April 30, 1928, she made her first vows. Immediately, she was assigned to California. She worked at Monrovia which at that time was a tuberculosis hospital. In 1931 she made her final vows.

By profession, Sister Mary Ellen was a nurse, but because of her ability to adapt easily and her readiness to respond to peoples, places and situations, she was given a variety of assignments within and outside her field, Sister remained at Monrovia until her assignment as superior of the Maui Children’s Home in Hawaii in 1943. After completing her term as superior there in 1946, Sister was assigned to the Motherhouse and then to the Novitiate at Valley Park, MO. In 1952, she was recalled to New York to take up her post as Superior of Bethany Convent. Completing her term at Bethany, Sister returned to the Maui Children’s Home in 1955 where she stayed until 1961.

Early in her religious life, Sister Mary Ellen had expressed the wish to work among the lepers. This dream was never realized; but this never dampened the zeal of her commitment. Perhaps no assignment Sister received better demonstrated her deep love for people, especially little people, than the years she spent at the Maui Children’s Home. Being myself stationed on the Island of Maui at that time, I experienced from personal observation how the overflow of her gentle tenderness for children, left orphaned by death or abandoned through neglect, provided a refuge where love became tangible and children, who had known only pain and hurt, abuse and fear, learned to smile again, to trust and to believe in God as a loving Father.

In July of 1962, while vacationing at Bethany, Sister Mary Ellen became very ill. Doctors gave little promise or hope of recovery. After this, Sister enjoyed only intermittent periods of relative health.

She retired completely in 1972 at Monrovia. It had been her wish to die there where long ago she had made her final commitment to God and Maryknoll. On Monday morning, November 8, 1976 around 1:15 a.m., California time, this desire was fulfilled and Sister Mary Ellen went home to God.

Her life and her death mirrored well that “Death is known only to that which lives, and life is grasped only by reaching deeply into dying.” (MSM)

We ask you faithfully to remember Sister in your prayers.