Sister Mary Alice O'Rourke, MM

Born: June 11, 1913
Entered: June 10, 1935
Died: October 15, 2006

On October 15, 2006, the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, we celebrated both Sister Mary Alice O’Rourke’s entrance into New Life and our traditional St. Teresa’s Day. Sister died in Maryknoll Residence Care III shortly after 7:00 a.m. Although her health had been failing, her death came quickly, quietly and peacefully. Her friend Sr. Ann Catherine Ryan was at her bedside. Sister Mary Alice was 93 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 71 years.

Alice O’Rourke was born on June 11, 1913, in White Plains, New York, daughter of William R. and Mary Foley O’Rourke. Alice had three brothers and three sisters. After graduating from St. John’s Academy in White Plains, New York, Alice attended Good Counsel College, also in White Plains, graduating in 1934 with a Bachelors Degree. Her major was Latin. The following year she entered Maryknoll on June 10. Alice professed her First Vows on January 6, 1938, when she received the religious name of Sister Mary Alice, and made her Final Profession of Vows on the same date three years later. Both ceremonies were held here at Maryknoll.

Right after her First Profession Sr. Mary Alice was assigned to teach the novices at the Venard in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. She returned to New York in 1939 and worked at the Maryknoll Post Office until 1950. It was in that year that Sister began her lifetime interest and involvement in social work, a profession at which she excelled. She worked in Catholic Social Services in San Francisco for a year and, in 1951, enrolled in Loyolla University, Chicago, Illinois, receiving a Masters in Social Work in 1953. After graduating she returned to California and worked in Stockton for five years.

Sister Mary Alice was assigned to the Philippines in 1958 and taught at the Maryknoll College where she founded the Social Work Department. She headed and directed this department until 1970 when she returned to the United States to get her doctorate in Social Work from the Catholic University of America. When she graduated, the Dean of the school wrote to Sr. Barbara Hendricks: “We believe that Sr. Mary Alice accomplished her doctoral work with distinct excellence. Her grasp of research methodology and sophisticated application in her doctoral dissertation is exemplary. Sister Mary Alice is a pioneer in a sense for us. She is the second religious to earn the Doctor of Social Work Degree from Catholic University.”

Returning to the Philippines in 1976 Mary Alice again became head of the Social Work Department at Maryknoll College. She also served as consultant to the School of Social Work at the Philippine Women’s University in Manila, where she helped develop their PhD program.

One of Sr. Mary Alice’s many legacies is the Philippine Agency for Community and Family or PACAF, which she founded in 1963. She saw that the poor areas around the universities needed social workers to facilitate their development, and with the students majoring in social work the College PACAF served low income groups. This Agency continues until today, still focusing on the family, striving to develop each one’s potential and encouraging participation in their community efforts for development.

Sister Mary Alice was well loved for her work in the Philippines. When she left Maryknoll College to return to the States in 1984, she received a beautiful tribute from the College Administrative Board which said in part: “Sr. Alice brought to the school its first professional course in the technical sense. Sr. Alice has given Maryknoll education an orientation unique for a long time in the realm of Catholic schools by giving of her own professional expertise and by introducing professional structures through which the school and its students can actualize their role as Christ’s laborers among the poor. How often has it been that an alumna would recall her Maryknoll days and single out Sr. Alice as the one who had exerted a most profound influence on her life?”

When Sister Mary Alice returned to the Center, she first did Congregational Service in Archives and then in the Center Health Unit, where she used her social work skills in doing intake interviews for Sisters being admitted to the Maryknoll Nursing Home. In 1987 Alice, in her usual methodical way, planned where she would retire. With several options, including the Philippines, she decided to stay at the Center where she could best actualize her plan to deepen her relationship to Christ after 54 years of active life. She was admitted to Maryknoll Residential Care in 1999.

Sister Mary Alice was well known for her honesty and openness. You always knew where she stood on any issue! The expression “tough love” could well be used in describing her. Beneath a sometimes gruff exterior, she was a person deeply faithful to friendships and to her family. From an early age Mary Alice’s severe hearing loss was a burden to her. However, she was very much in tune with what was going on – she knew when people were upset and would reach out to them with great compassion. Mary Alice had a seriousness of purpose even during novitiate days. Sister Cecilia Ruggiero, of her entrance group and a good friend, wrote: “We spent many hours discussing some serious and important topic. Alice had no time for silliness and meaningless chitchat and jokes.” She was very proud of her Irish roots and had an Irish sense of humor, some of which was self-directed. Frequently towards the end of her life she was heard saying, “This is really something… it’s no fun being old.” And a twinkle would appear in her serious eyes and a little smile would cross her lips. She was always very interested in current events and world affairs. Until two weeks before she died Sister could be seen daily reading the New York Times. She also liked reading the Wall Street Journal, which connects with her choosing the Treasury Department as her Prayer Ministry.

Today’s reading from Proverbs well describes Sister Mary Alice, “A truly valiant woman is worth more than precious gems. She is a woman of strength and dignity.” Sister Mary Alice O’Rourke was a unique and gifted woman, well-integrated with a very keen mind and strong convictions. A woman of prayer, she surely heard God’s call clearly when she was called to enter eternal life with the God whom she loved and served so faithfully. She will be missed.

To the staff of Maryknoll Residential Care who attentively and lovingly cared for Sister with love and compassion through many years, we express our deep gratitude.

We welcome and extend our condolences to Sister’s family and friends. We also welcome our Maryknoll brother Father Ernest Lukaschek who will preside at this morning’s Liturgy of Christian Burial.