Sister Mary Florence McHugh, MM

Born: February 24, 1890
Entered: April 30, 1924
Died: July 31, 1978

On Monday, July 31st, just a few minutes past noon, we received word from Bethany that Sister Florence McHugh had passed into eternal life.

Fifty-five years ago, on July 1, 1923, Maryknoll Father John Considine returned to the Knoll after a promotion date at a parish in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he had given mission appeals during the Sunday Masses. The very next day he wrote a note to Mother Mary Joseph Rogers about two young women who had approached him after Mass, showing interest in becoming foreign missioners. In his note, Father Considine told Mother how both these young women had been considering religious life and that after hearing about the foreign missions they wanted information about the Maryknoll Sisters and the requirements for  entrance. Father added that both of these young women seemed “quiet and sensible”. Furthermore, he had spoken to the pastor who assured him that he, himself, considered that both would make good missioners. One of those young women was Margaret Teresa McHugh, who was, at that time, working in the home of the Duval family as a domestic servant. Teresa McHugh, as she was called at that time, still caught up in the vision of mission she had heard from the young Maryknoll priest, wrote to Mother Mary Joseph within a few days! Before a year had passed, she was accepted and received as a postulant.

Margaret Teresa McHugh was born in Dowra County, Leitrim, Ireland on February 24, 1890. The family was large; 5 girls and 5 boys were living at the time of her entrance. Teresa attended St. Patrick’s School and St. Mary’s in England from the age of nine until she was fifteen years old. She lived and worked in England until 1910 when she returned to Ireland. In 1915, at the age of 25, she emigrated to the U.S.A. Like so many young women emigrating to the U.S. at that time, she found a job. as a domestic servant. It was 8 years later in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, that she heard Father John Considine’s sermon and suddenly realized that her awakening desire to enter religious life might well take the form of a vocation to a Community called Maryknoll, founded only recently for the foreign missions.

Margaret Teresa entered Maryknoll on April 30, 1924; made her first profession of vows on December 8, 1926 here at Maryknoll’s Center, and was finally professed in the Seattle Mission among the Japanese people. Sister Mary Florence, which name she was given at Reception, had obviously received a very fine education and was blessed by God with pronounced intellectual qualities. This was evidenced by her clear, precise written word and the quality of her conversation. She was well-read, and up-to-date on current events and was particularly interested in the political situation. At the same time she had unusual abilities in regard to domestic arts and crafts.

Sister Florence was a quiet person with an amused twinkle ever present in her kind and gentle eyes and possessed a delightful sense of humor which reflected her Irish culture and which endeared her to those with whom she lived and worked in Seattle at the Japanese Mission, at the Maryknoll Seminary, at the Motherhouse and at Bethany where she gave so many dedicated years of her life.

She always kept busy and never wasted a moment. Perhaps her well-ordered school days in England and the long busy days of domestic service before entrance made her aware of the need for a life of harmony and whole-hearted service to others as a basis for human growth and fulfillment. But, more than that it seems – from those who knew her well – she was gifted by the Lord with an unusual sense of accountability for her stewardship. She had a totality about her self-gift in service to the Mission of Jesus and to his Church – a service which was sweet for her and sweet to those who shared her life in any way, either working with her or for her, as some groups of postulants used to do. Some of those postulants of the 1940’s remember well the refreshing cool drinks she would have ready for them in the early morning when they would have walked over to Bethany from the Motherhouse, to help her in the kitchen. Not all the staff at Bethany thought that postulants needed a drink so early in the morning; but Sister Florence thought it was a good idea and indeed it was since it lives on in the memory of some nearly thirty-five years later.

Up until the time she became seriously ill, Sister Florence had made hundreds of cinctures which were sold in the  International Shop. This gift of handmade cinctures is very symbolic of her life – her energy expended for sacramental life and love in the Christian Community, in a quiet almost unnoticed sacrifice. Perhaps we can best sum up her life as one of quiet service to the Lord’s household. She spent fifty-four years as a Maryknoller in quiet, deep presence to the Lord and to his people, woven together with a tremendous well-ordered energy to be of service. Fittingly she spent forty years of her life at Bethany where she lived out a harmonious personal drama of both Martha and Mary, sitting at the feet of the Lord, yet never ceasing to serve as best she knew how.