Sister Kathleen Marie Shea, MM
Born: October 27, 1905
Entered: December 8, 1930
Died: May 12, 1990
In February of 1977 at the age of 71, Sister Kathleen Marie Shea wrote “Facing the Sunset”, an essay expressing her views on Retirement and her attitude towards life as a whole. It had this poetic introduction:
“The sun at dawn dispels darkness with its delicate rays as it rises golden on a new day. The sun at noon reaches its zenith with strength, brightness and power, But the sun in setting has reserved its greatest beauty for the end of the day as it paints the sky with its most brilliant hues leaving a most wonderful glow over everything as in peace and silence it sinks to rest.A small reflection of the beauty of its Creator.”
Sister Kathleen Marie’s whole life reflected the beauty of her Creator. And true to what she has written she lived her retirement years exceptionally full, with “more time to pray, more time to listen, more time to show loving concern for all,” that in her, old age acquired that special glow of a breath-taking sunset.
The dawn of Sister Kathleen Marie’s life was spent mostly with her two brothers, two sisters and their parents at their home in South Boston, MA, where she was born on October 27, 1905 and was baptized Marion Elizabeth. Their father John Patrick Shea was an iron worker from New Brunswick, Canada and their mother Catherine Theresa Hanlon came from Cork, Ireland. They were a devout, Catholic family, who nurtured their faith and cared for one another deeply.
Growing up during the period spanning the First World War and the long Depression, Sister Kathleen Marie learned early in life the value of hard work. After their father’s death in 1921, and being the oldest child, Sister took her share of responsibility in the family. She discontinued her studies at South Boston High School in 1923 and sought employment as a telephone operator with the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. She stayed in this job until her entrance to Maryknoll on December 8, 1930.
Sister Kathleen Marie was professed on June 24, 1933 and worked at the Maryknoll Seminary kitchen until she made her Final Vows on June 24, 1936. That year she was assigned to Shanghai Mercy Hospital, the first facility for the mentally ill poor in China. The sufferings and deaths caused by the violence of war in that country made a lasting impression on Sister and fueled her life—long compassion for the oppressed, the most needy and marginalized poor of society. In 1938, she went to help our Sisters in Yeng You, North Korea and two years later she was sent to Monrovia, CA to serve the needs of tuberculosis patients in our Sanatorium there. In 1949, Sister moved to Guadalupe, CA where she engaged in catechetical and social welfare work for five years.
It was a happy day for Sister Kathleen Marie when she returned to Korea in 1954. The country had been divided and was just emerging from the devastation of war. Thousands of refugees poured into the South and many sought medical care at the Maryknoll Sisters Clinic in Pusan. Here, Sister did the initial assessment of the hundreds of people who came each day and stood in long lines awaiting their turn. Sister Kathleen Marie identified the serious cases which needed immediate attention by the Doctor. A woman who was pregnant and very sick at the time was among them, and through Sister Kathleen Marie received the emergency medical treatment which saved her and her child. Since that day, this woman has prayed that she may meet Sister again to thank her. It was only in 1980, during Sister Kathleen Marie’s Golden Jubilee Mass in Seoul that this prayer was answered. This woman happened upon the Liturgy, recognized Kathleen and in a very moving way came forward to give her thanks. Sister considered this incident her “hundredfold” – God’s special gift for her Golden Jubilee.
From 1954 until her return to the Center in 1987, Sister Kathleen Marie continued her varied and challenging ministries among the Korean people to whom she was very devoted, whether the city folks in Seoul or the hospital patients, the prison inmates or those afflicted with Hansen’s disease in So Rok Do, or their many neighbors and parishioners in Pusan and Jeung Pyeong. Her dedication and great love for the Koreans were evident in her enduring relationships with them. Sister Kathleen Marie has brought sunshine and joy to the lives of many people. Her delightful sense of humor and entertaining stories endeared her to everyone. She had many good friends not only among the people and Sisters but also among the Maryknoll men, Guadalupe priests and Korean clergy. Always gracious and hospitable, she provided a welcoming atmosphere at the Regional House in Seoul when she was the Coordinator there. All throughout her 60 years in Maryknoll, Sister maintained a lively interest in Community affairs. She participated eagerly in all Regional meetings and activities, ready to volunteer for any task she could do. She also promptly responded to all questionnaires and requests for feedback from the Region and the Congregation. Although over 20 years older than most of the Sisters in the Region, she was able to fit right in and everybody loved and enjoyed her company.
Sister Kathleen Marie continued to blossom in old age. In the mid – 70’s she discovered and developed her natural talent and flair for writing. She started writing articles that were published in “Thoughts of the Times” a regular column of the Korea Times, one of two English language newspapers in South Korea. Her writings showed her sensitivity and insights into events. It was also a means of expressing her own personal convictions and deep faith in God.
After our Sisters were killed in El Salvador, Sister Kathleen Marie was upset that only a brief news item appeared in the Korean newspapers. This prompted her to write the article, “Love is Stronger than Death” published in the Korea Times on Jan. 9, 1981. In it she described how the four martyred women “lived amongst the poor… and gave hope where it was most needed.” She did not stop there, but unleashing the power of the pen, wrote to the then Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, denouncing the inaccuracies in the testimonies related to the murders. She also wrote to Archbishop Rivera y Damas urging him to fully support the investigations.
Sister was fearless in matters of truth and justice as she believed God provides her with “invincible protection”. Her life was permeated with this abiding trust in God’s love and mercy that when she could no longer be in active ministry in 1983 she chose to remain in Korea and have a prayer apostolate, giving support and encouragement to the other Sisters in their ministries.
Sister returned to the Center for Renewal in 1987. After much prayer and discernment with the Sisters in Korea, she asked for a transfer to the Senior Region in Monrovia. In late March, Sister asked to return to the Center and to our Maryknoll Nursing Home where she died peacefully on Saturday, May 12, 1990 at about 5:00 P.M.
In May of 1978 after Sister Kathleen Marie received the Sacrament of the Sick with 22 Hansen’s disease patients, she wrote, “like a traveler coming home whose heart is filled with joyous expectation… so we today have joy and expectation as we draw nearer to the shores of eternity.” Today, we can truly say Sister Kathleen Marie has reached those shores and is finally home with God.
Our Liturgy this morning will have the Holy Spirit as its theme because devotion to the Holy Spirit was paramount in Kathleen’s life. We are happy to have Fr. Michael Duggan, a Maryknoll Missioner in Korea, as our Celebrant and Deacon Ken Sleyman who worked with Sister in So Rok Do who will give the Homily.
We welcome and express our sympathy to Sister’s family including her brother, her sister, and her niece with her daughter. We also express our sympathy to her other relatives and friends both here and in Korea.