Sister M. Coronata Sheehan, MM

Born: June 26, 1890
Entered: April 30, 1925
Died: February 5, 1973

Sister Mary Coronata Sheehan died here at the Center early yesterday morning. She had been failing lately and during the past few months had taken to an electric wheelchair of ancient vintage, which she used to get herself around to the Chapel and other areas of the house. Last Saturday, those of us who attended the special banquet to celebrate the Lunar New Year with our sisters from the Hong Kong and Taiwan Regions, had the joy of seeing Sister Coronata there — a vibrant and interested participator in the festivities. Sunday morning she was with us for Mass, and at dinner was seen conversing with several girls who were spending the weekend here, interested in perhaps joining Maryknoll. Monday morning she died soon after she awoke. Just as her death was announced over the public address system, those of us who work in Central Services were beginning our Monday morning prayer. Needless to say, our sharing and our prayer was offered for our dear Sister Coronata, so well known and loved by all of us.

Elizabeth Helena Sheehan was born on June 26, 1890 in Springfield, Massachusetts. She grew up there, attending St. Michael’s Cathedral School and graduating from the high school in June, 1908. For two years she studied at the Bay Path Business Institute, and in 1910 took a teaching position in a high school in New Britain, Connecticut. After three years of teaching, she went into the business field in Springfield, first working as a bookkeeper for five years and then in property transfers for seven years. During this time she was actively interested in the missions and was instrumental in organizing a mission circle. Her mission interest and activity led her to enter Maryknoll on April 30, 1925. Her first profession was on December 8, 1927.

From the fall of 1927 until the spring of 1929, Sister studied at the Sisters’ College of the Catholic University of America. Soon after her termination of these studies, she received her first mission assignment to Manchuria. Before the end of 1929 she was off with five other sisters, heading toward the Orient. Her letters written along the way show a great spirit of enthusiasm and joy and are permeated with a sense of humor and a remarkable adaptability to new sights, sounds, and customs, together with a deep sensitivity to the beauty and worth of the people she met along the way.

Sister Coronata worked in Dairen from March, 1930, until December, 1934, when she was assigned to Fushun. In October, 1936, she was assigned to open a new mission in Antung. When she received word of this new assignment, she wrote in a humble way about the honor of being asked to open a new house – – and yet with a spirit of enthusiasm in response to this challenge. In late 1937, Sister Coronata was assigned back to the Center to work at the Field Afar offices and in General Administration. She continued on, helping here at the Motherhouse until her assignment to Hawaii in 1946. Once again from her own writings, I get a sense of easy response to a call that for her seemed to be the obvious will of the Lord. In the islands, Sister’s flexibility and adaptability were again evident. She taught numerous subjects such as English, Latin, and business. Always young at heart, she loved to be with young people. In the convent she would often speak with the younger members of the community about Mother Mary Joseph, whom she knew intimately and loved dearly. She delighted in quoting her and making her better known.

Sister Coronata’s last assignment was to return to the Motherhouse in 1954, where she began working once again in Central Administration. She served diligently and loyally until January, 1971, when she withdrew from this full-time job and began a somewhat more relaxed schedule. She was 80 years “young” at the time. Her new “somewhat more relaxed schedule” saw her busily dedicating her many talents in the handicraft field to various projects, helping some of us less talented folks to do such things as knitting. It was a joy to have her in our midst. She radiated that old Maryknoll spirit that communicates joy, contentment, and practicality.

After reading through Sister’s letters sent from the Orient and later from Hawaii, one is struck by her joy, enthusiasm, practicality, loyalty, and ever-present adaptability. There is a beautiful letter written by Father James Ahern, Rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, to Father James Anthony Walsh, which seems to not only describe her characteristics at that time (April, 1925), but to foresee her eventual growth as a Maryknoll Missioner. I would like to quote directly from this letter since it sums up for me Sister Mary Coronata Sheehan and her way of being with us during these 47 years of her Maryknoll vocation

“Miss Helen Sheehan of this parish, who is about to enter Maryknoll, belongs to one of our best Catholic families. She herself is a most exemplary character, and one who, I feel, will be a welcome acquisition to the Maryknoll Sisters. She has good judgment, solid piety, keen intellect, sound common sense, and will make, I am sure, a good, practical, holy nun.

May she rest in peace, and may she watch over all Maryknollers from Heaven. Please remember Sister Mary Coronata in your prayers and have the Sacrifice of the Mass offered for her.