Sister Ann Casey, MM

Born: August 2, 1908
Entered: October 15, 1928
Died: October 18, 1992

On October 18, 1992, Sister Ann Casey died in our Nursing Facility here at the Center. For some weeks she health had been failing. Never one to sit around, Ann expressed her great desire to die at Maryknoll. She said her goodbyes to her sister, Cecilia, other family members and friends in California and, accompanied by Sister Nancy Thomas, arrived in New York on the morning of October 17, amidst autumn splendor.

We knew Ann was very ill, but we did not suspect she would be with us just for the weekend! Many Sisters called at her bedside to greet her, to pray with her and for her. At the very least, and to everyone’s delight, with continual rapid eyebrow movements, Ann appeared to acknowledge each one who had come to pray. We were sure she knew we were there, surrounding her with affection. Ann died peacefully at 9:04 pm. It was Mission Sunday!

Ann Casey was born in San Francisco on August 2, 1908, one of 12 children born to Mary Ann Sullivan and James Joseph Casey, both originally of County Kerry, Ireland. Ann grew up in this close-knit family and with her seven sisters and four brothers, did her schooling in San Francisco. She was only a 7th grader at St. Paul’s when she first learned about Maryknoll through a Maryknoller, Fr. Joseph Cassidy, who came to conduct a school mission. Ann was entranced by his China stories and from that moment was drawn toward her future life commitment as a Maryknoll Sister. “From that time, until my entrance,” she said in an interview many years later, “I assisted Fr. James Keller, M.M. in any way possible as a receptionist or with clerical work at the San Francisco Procure.”

After graduation from St. Rose Academy in May 1928, she entered Maryknoll on October 15, 1928, fresh from high school, in order, as she put it, “that I might better serve God,” fully expecting of course that she would do so in China, her first love.

At Reception, Ann received the name of Sister Theophane Marie. She made her first vows on January 6, 1931 here at Maryknoll and was assigned to Hawaii, where she began a long teaching career of over 40 years, almost evenly divided between Hawaii and California missions. She served first in Maui, made her Final Vows in Honolulu on January 6, 1934 and continued as a teacher at St. Anthony’s in Kalihi, Honolulu from 1935 until 1954. Through many of these years she took summer courses at the University of Hawaii and after a concentrated year of study here at Maryknoll Teacher’s College, in 1948 she earned her Bachelors in Education. Her next teaching assignment in 1954 was to San Juan Capistrano in California. Eleven years later in 1965, she became Principal at the school for Japanese children in Los Angeles until 1970. She then concluded her teaching days with five more years in Phoenix, Arizona among Mexican children.

In an interview in 1978, Ann was asked about her long teaching career, about China, her first love and through all those years, what had been most satisfying for her. How she answered, shows a woman who had grown wise with the years, someone who had gained deep clarity as to the essence of her self-gift. “I believe, that when I came to Maryknoll and realized the vast potential of works and places, I was ready to go wherever I was sent. I have always enjoyed each assignment, and especially teaching. I dreamed of China, but China and the Orient came to me all through my years in Hawaii. Then in San Juan Capistrano and in Phoenix, I loved the Mexican children. When I went to Los Angeles, I loved the Japanese children and, as principal appreciated being in a position to guide them directly.” Ann then added that she could never isolate any particular phase of her mission life as “most satisfying”. Obviously, Ann loved people and gave them her undivided attention. We know because people she had known continue to ask about that remarkable Sister Theophane Marie, whose big smile they could never forget. Key to her abiding happiness and enthusiasm was perhaps her own stated conviction, “I see my missionary vocation as one lived daily here and now.”

In the late 70’s, Ann moved gracefully into a “second career” in service to the elderly, her contemporaries. At the time of her Golden Jubilee in 1978, she said, “My personality seems to have fitted me to be a companion to the elderly. I love this ministry. I find that people of all walks of life need a listening, sympathetic and compassionate person to assist them in coping with life’s problems. I believe that I am a haven of peace for the families involved, as there is need for much spiritual healing.”

Ann’s ministry to the elderly was interwoven with a very active concern about social justice. After the deaths of our Sisters in El Salvador, she became involved with various Churches interested in doing something about America’s part in the sufferings of the Salvadoran people. “Wherever I could,” she said, “I spoke, marched, prayed and protested U.S. presence in Central America.” Ann was also active in the Sanctuary Movement. In the Western U.S. Region, she was prominent among those who alerted others to justice issues and suggested specific actions they might take.

Ann’s practical mind remained keen and active as she sought to combine knowledge and service. She took courses and kept up with the times. Although it was never her style to write for publications, in June of this year, when answering a survey regarding accomplishments of this nature – any articles, books, thesis – her answer was “Not yet.”!

By the time of her death on Sunday, Ann was 84 years old, had been a Maryknoll Sister for 64 years and had become a very holy woman. Recently when asked to name any special awards of honor she might have received during her Maryknoll life, she wrote, “Sharing life with dozens and dozens of fellow Maryknollers.” All who knew her remember her vivacious, lively wit, her joyousness and sincere interest in others. Every Sister’s recollection is that she was wonderful to live with. To be with her was to be “at home.” By Ann’s own reckoning, that which had made it all worthwhile, “was to have been chosen to be a Maryknoll Sister, to have known the love and support of a loving community.” For this she could only speak undying gratitude. In a very special way this morning, we too express our own deep gratitude for the gift of her life to us. We ask Ann, who died on Mission Sunday, to remain close to us, and we request this special mission of her: that she spend forever teaching us how to be a haven of peace for one another.

We extend our deepest sympathy to all of Ann’s relatives. We also offer our loving sympathy to all the Sisters of the Western U.S. Region. In a more intense way, they will miss Ann’s vibrant presence among them. We thank our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Al Ryan for coming to celebrate the Liturgy of the Resurrection with us.