Sister Marie Eugenie Gallagher, MM

Born: April 16, 1914
Entered: July 2, 1940
Died: May 18, 1991

Today, we celebrate the new life of Sister Marie Eugenie Gallagher who died on the eve of Pentecost, on May 18 at 1:45 a.m.

Marie Eugenie was known to many as a warm, gentle, kind, and hospitable person, always making time to be concerned for others. Having lived with her during the later 6 years in the Baguio community before the earthquake damaged the convent beyond repair, I came to appreciate her thoughtful ways which helped glue us as a group. She had many friends, many of whom have joined us today. One such good friend is Mother Angela Ansaldo, an Assumption Sister, who represented what was important of Assumption to her. It was Mother Angela who shared many spiritual insights in their last visit together before Marie Eugenie passed away. Asked what she shared with Eugenie, Mother Angela replied with the words from the foundress of the Assumption Sisters, Mother Marie Eugenie Milleret de Broun: “Every detail of our life has been the object of the Divine thought and that thought is always one of love.”

Let me now share with you the details that I have gathered of Marie Eugenie’s life. Leoncia was born to Catalina Molaben, a Filipina, and Hugh James Gallagher, a U.S. citizen, on April 16, 1914, in La Carlota, Negros Occidental, Philippines. She was the third of four children, two boys and two girls. Her older sister, Concha, and she spent their years in elementary and high school in Assumption College, Iloilo. In 1934-1936, she went to Malabon Normal School and obtained a Teacher’s Certificate. There she met the Maryknoll Sisters and was attracted to join them. She spent the next years teaching in Lucena, Quezon, until she decided to join the Maryknoll Sisters on July 5, 1940. After almost three years of religious formation in New York, she made her first religious profession as Sister Marie Eugenie.

Soon after, the Maryknoll Sisters sent Marie Eugenie to Waialua, Hawaii. There she stayed for 14 years, in grade school teaching for 10 years and parish/catechetical work for 4 years. She also learned the Spalding Phonics method as a tool to unlock difficulties of children with reading problems. In December 1958, Maryknoll sent her to the Philippines, where she helped in 10 mission places: Lucena, Quezon (High School Literature and Religion, ‘58-’59); Paco, Manila (kindergarten, ‘59-’62); Dulawan, Cotabato (High School Principal, ‘62-’66); Jimenez, Misamis Or. (U.S. Principal, ‘66-’67); Santo Tomas, Davao (High School Principal, ‘67-’69); Maryknoll College (U.S. Religion and Adult Education, ‘70-’72) ; Santiago, Isabela — La Salette School (Grade School Principal, ‘72-’73); Bislig, Surigao, John Bosco School (Grade School Principal, ‘73-’77); Lupon, Davao. (High School Directress, ‘77-’78); Baguio (Diocesan Adult Training Center – Religion Coordinator, Marishan School – Teaching, Religion Coordinator, ‘79-’89). Her years in Baguio were interrupted only by one year with the Philippine Lay Mission Program Office in Manila, ‘82-’83.

As Marie Eugenie moved from one ministry to another, she took the training needed to equip her for these ministries. In 1960, she finished the extension course for a Bachelor of Education (B.E.) at Maryknoll Teachers College, New York. In the summer of 1967, she took courses in Guidance and Counseling at the Ateneo de Manila; in 1969-70, she went to the East Asian Pastoral Institute. In 1970, she attended the University of Santo Tomas for a Bachelor of Science in Education. She also took a term of Clinical Pastoral Education in September – November 1978.

Reflecting on these details, we can gain some insight into her life. If every detail of our life is an object of the Divine thought, then there are no coincidences with God, or things that simply happen. We usually call this in Tagalog as “nagkataon” or translated, “it just so happened.” Even events considered as “nagkataon” are really details that are part of the Divine thought, carefully done in love. The joyful events of her life: her first religious profession, her Finals (March 7, 1946, Waialua); Silver Jubilee (March 7, 1968, Santo Tomas, Davao), and Golden Jubilee (April 11, 1990, Baguio) as well as her sufferings, these are details that matter to God. God’s love is infinitely greater and deeper than we can ever imagine.

In the first reading, I find Paul’s letter to the Galatians very suitable for our occasion today. Eugenie’s life, guided by the Spirit, bore the fruit of joy, love, peace, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control: qualities that we recognized in her. Maryknoll Sisters as well as a very good friend recall her hospitality par excellence, saying that “she offered hospitality to the point of our wanting to come back.” Eugenie considered it part of her ministry in Baguio to be a house hospitality Sister, welcoming guests and seeing that their needs were provided for.

Another value Eugenie lived was adaptability. It is a trait that our foundress, Mother Mary Joseph considered important for mission. In a conference given in 1952, she said, “Adaptability is that power of creating, anywhere that we may be sent, the feeling of filling in, and of attempting anything which we are asked to do. You will be frequently moved about from this work to that, from one house to another, from one room to another. It seems to be part of our life, this moving about and adjusting ourselves to new conditions. We must try to the very best of our ability to accept these changes readily, easily, and quickly…” Recognizing this in Eugenie, Joan Cordis Westhues wrote to her, “We are so grateful to you for your willingness to answer the Lupon need this year, postponing your first love: Adult Education. The way you have adapted to continuing changes and responsibilities there has been admirable.” (September 17, 1977)

On April 13, when Eugenie was taken to the hospital, she suffered an injury that she would continue to struggle with throughout the rest of her life.

On Friday, May 17, Sister Ann Maloney, Maryknoll Sister-nurse attending to her needs, other Sisters and friends noticed a change in her. She asked to call Goncha, her sister. She was joyful, bantering and peaceful. She seemed to have followed Mother Angela’s suggestion “to leave all in the arms of God and to have nothing to fear for in death, we shall see God face to face.” It was the spirit of love and peace that finally prevailed at her death, the same spirit that guided her throughout her 77 years of struggle between despair and hope, between depression and life, between anxiety and trust.

We are grateful for this special life of Marie Eugenie Gallagher, a life well spent and shared with so many – her own family, friends, and others whom she served in different capacities as teacher,  administrator, counselor and friend. We stand in awe at the privilege of being gifted with a person so gentle and loving. We rejoice at the gift of her risen life that she finally accepted, the fruits of which we are beginning to feel.

We wish to thank all of you who have shared life with her and invite you to share the fruits of the Spirit with one another and with others whom you will encounter in the future. We also welcome and thank Father Daven Day, SJ, two Jesuit and two La Salette priests who have kindly joined us for this Mass of the Resurrection for Eugenie. Finally, I pray that we may experience the peace that Eugenie has poured on us through her death, the peace that comes from reconciliation with one’s own self, with others who may have offended us or whom we have offended, and with God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and Sanctifier.