Sister Agnes Regina Rafferty, MM
Born: February 6, 1907
Entered: December 20, 1933
Died: August 12, 1996
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this liturgy of Resurrection for Sister Agnes Regina Rafferty.
On Monday, August 12, 1996 after enjoying a game of bingo, Sister Agnes Regina proceeded to the 3rd floor dining room for supper. She had just taken her place at table when she suddenly died. It was 5:20 p.m. Those who knew her well said that she died as she would have wanted to — fast! From the beginning of her 63 years at Maryknoll, and consistently throughout her life as a Maryknoll sister, she was described as someone who knew what she was about. She did what had to be done, efficiently, decisively and gently. We rejoice with her that her death was not preceded by a prolonged period of suffering. When God came for her, her lamp was trimmed and lit; she was ready to go. That evening Sister Agnes Regina dined in the Kingdom of God.
Regina Bridget Rafferty was born in Camden, WV on February 6, 1907. She was one of eight children, five boys and three girls, of Mary Ann Cummings and William Rafferty. All of her primary and secondary schooling was at St. Patrick’s in Weston, WV. As Salutatorian of her high school graduation class in 1924, her address at the Commencement resonates with a sense of destiny. “To whatever ends of the earth we may be scattered, we should make our presence felt always.” Nine years later, Regina Bridget was at Maryknoll. In the intervening years, she enrolled at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore, MD, graduating as a registerd nurse in 1930. She went on to specialize in communicable diseases at Sydenham Hospital in Baltimore.
After her death, among her personal papers was found a succinct chronology in which she listed the significant events of her mission life, beginning December 20, 1933 with her entrance into Maryknoll.
During the novitiate days, when she became known as Sister Agnes Regina, she notes that whatever other duries she had, infirmary dury was always one of them. Of her nursing skills here at Maryknoll and subsequently in Shanghai, Manila and Monrovia, CA, Sisters remember that “when she walked into a patient’s room, they seemed to relax. Her presence was reassuring and comforting. She was kind, intelligent, honest and forthright.” While still a novice, in December 1935, she was assigned night duty to care for Bishop James Anthony Walsh, Co-Founder of the Maryknoll Society, until his death on April 14, 1936. Of all the memories she cherished, the privilege of nursing Bishop Walsh was the one she mentioned most frequently.
Agnes Regina made her first Profession of Vows on June 30, 1936 here at Maryknoll. In September of that year, she was assigned to Shanghai Mercy Hospital for nervous and mental diseases. Five weeks later she arrived in Shanghai, and the following day, according to her chronology, she was on duty in Pavilion III, with 90-100 patients. She recalls that she was “bewildered and confused by the noise of the patients especially because of the ‘new’ language.” She managed somehow, undoubtedly approaching this daunting mission with her characteristic self-confidence and determination.
In 1938, she was assigned to the Philippines where initially, she was supervisor in a girls’ student hostel at the University of the Philippines. Shorty after making Final Profession on June 30, 1939 at Malabon, she was back in full time medical work in the operating room at St. Paul’s Hospital, in Intramuros, facing Manila Bay. It was here that so much action would soon be concentrated during World War II.
In her chronology, she understates the sufferings of this period of her life. Her account fairly chuckles with wry humor as she describes her involvements during the war. She seemed to have been “on duty” even as an internee in a variety of camps, eventually arriving at Los Banos on July 9, 1944. From her description, she and her fellow internees did whatever they could to alleviate the sufferings all were enduring.
After the dramatic rescue on February 23, 1945 by the U.S. paratroopers, Sister Agnes Regina was not repatriated immediately. She spent several months nursing those much worse off than herself before she sailed on the Harry M. Taylor on June 2, 1945. Soon after a well deserved rest, she was back on her feet and ready for her next assignment to Monrovia, CA, to care for TB patients. Two years later, she was reassigned to the Philippines, this time to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Manapla. She remained there until 1953, with the exception of the time she spent in Manila to assist in the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Hospital. St. Paul’s which was turned over to Spanish Charity Sisters, is still functioning well. Thanks to the oversight of Sister Agnes Regina and the other Sister-nurses who planned the work with her, more than once, doctors and medical personnel have commented on the “utility” of the placement of the various departments and services in the hospital. In addition to her varied tasks, she also served the Community in Manila as 1st Councillor and Assistant Superior in 1957 and ’58.
Sister’s last assignment in the Philippines was at Maryknoll College in 1971, “where,” she writes, “I was given the task of keeping the teachers on their feet. The Sisters on other Islands needed medical attention from time to time and I had to decide where and how this was to be carried out. I even did some health teaching in the college.” What she doesn’t mention is that she was also the local bookkeeper. At her wake service yesterday evening, we heard how proactive she was in looking for her successor in this capacity.
In 1975, she returned to the United States and was assigned to Monrovia, which by then had been transformed into a retirement facility for the Congregation. In semi-retirement, she served as assistant in health services for a number of years. Even after she retired completely, Sisters continued to seek out her opinion. In January 1995, when she became very seriously ill, she was flown back to the Center. She rallied, recovering well enough to enjoy life all around her, literally until her last game of bingo on August 12th.
So much more could be written about Sister Agnes Regina whose world was expansive, even in diminishment. When we look back over her life, we are in awe at the responsibilities she shouldered in very trying circumstances. With touching fondness, at her wake service yesterday evening, Sisters remembered this strong, feisty woman who was not easily flustered, who exuded calm and authority. Those who had lived with her in the Philippines spoke of their reliance on her good judgment and recalled the ease with which they could approach her because she was so kind.
Sister Agnes Regina is survived by her sister, Margaret Catherine Rafferty and two brothers, Bernard and William. We are particularly mindful of them, knowing they are with us in spirit, and we offer them our loving sympathy. Representing the family today are Sister Agnes Regina’s nephews and cousin. We welcome each of you, so happy that you could be with us for the liturgy of Resurrection. We now welcome our brother, Father James Kroeger, who will preside at this celebration of new life for Sister Agnes Regina.