Sister Pauline Gibbons, MM

Born: June 30, 1922
Entered: September 6, 1945
Died: February 15, 2009

“This is what Yahweh asks of you, only this: That you act justly, that you love tenderly, that you walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Sister Pauline Marie Gibbons’ long and vigorous years in mission of acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with her God here on Earth were transformed into eternal joy during the early hours of Saturday morning, February 19, 2005. Pauline died peacefully in her own room in the house she had shared for several years with Sister Elizabeth (Betty) Burns, M.M., and her mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Burns. Betty, her dear friend and community companion of 37 years, was keeping vigil with Pauline when she died. Pauline was 82 years old, and had been a Maryknoll Sisters for 60 years.

Pauline Alice Gibbons was born in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on June 30, 1922. She was the third of seven children, three boys and four girls, born to Joseph F. and Marion E. (Devlin) Gibbons. The family moved to Hamilton, Ontario, when she was eight years old. Pauline attended St. Mary’s Grade School and Girls’ Cathedral High School in Hamilton. She was one of the Cathedral Girls’ class of 1939, and maintained a life-long friendship with her classmates. After high school, Pauline attended St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Hamilton and graduated in 1943. As a young nurse, she enthusiastically began the practice of the profession that she dearly loved, and did private duty nursing for a couple of years. Pauline was also drawn to a life of service as a religious, and her interest in being a missionary eventually led her to Maryknoll. She entered the novitiate in New York on September 6, 1945. At reception, she received the name Sister Paul Marie. She made her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1948, at Maryknoll, NY, and her Final Profession of Vows on March 7, 1951 in Kandy, Ceylon.

Pauline was among the chosen few to be assigned to the first group to open a new mission in Ceylon in August 1949. Her departure preparations included the completion of a four-month course in obstetrical nursing at Margaret Hague Hospital in New Jersey. These early years in Ceylon were full of adventure and challenge as the pioneers, Sisters Madeline Maria Dorsey, Mary Paul McKenna and Pauline, learned Sinhalese and adapted to the cultures of their predominantly Buddhist, Hindi and Tamil patients at the 600-bed government hospital in Kandy. In addition to giving direct patient care, Pauline was also a nursing supervisor. During her eight years there, significant strides were made in teaching advanced techniques and in developing organizational skills among the nursing and hospital staff.

Pauline returned to the United States in June 1957 for decennial, and subsequently was assigned to Queen of the World Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, in August of that same year. During her three years at Queen of World, Pauline was not only a superb nurse, but she labored tirelessly to train the African American nurses, and to promote their equality in the United States healthcare system prior to the civil rights movement in this country.

October 1960, brought a next assignment, this time to the South China Region, and again Pauline took on the challenge of learning a new language and culture. She landed in Hong Kong, where after studying Cantonese, she did nursing work among a burgeoning refugee population in out-patient clinics at King’s Park, Kowloontsai, Wong Tai Sin and Kwun Tong. Her commitment to caring for others was evident in the excellence of her practice, and in her love of learning new methods to relieve the suffering of others.

Pauline returned to Maryknoll again in June 1966 when she accompanied a Sister in need of medical care. She remained for decennial, then worked as a nurse in the Motherhouse infirmary and attended classes at Mary Rogers College. In September 1967, she and Sister Betty Burns were assigned together to study. They completed both Baccalaureate and Graduate degree programs in nursing at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Pauline received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing in January 1970. During a six-month break between programs in early 1970, she worked at Charles House, an extended care facility, in Boston, Massachusetts. Pauline graduated in June 1972 with a Master of Science degree in Community Health.

In 1973, after several years away from the Orient, Pauline asked to be assigned to the Eastern United States, the region in which she had been living and working for several years. She saw the United States very much as mission territory and thought that the unmet needs of people in this country were very apparent and demanded attention. She felt that she could use her newly acquired skills in nursing to alleviate suffering and work toward providing more equitable access to healthcare for the disenfranchised.

Pauline believed that, like St. Paul, she should be a tent-maker, working to support herself while spreading the Good News of peace with justice for all. Her primary ministry was community health nursing, which included home nursing care for the disadvantaged, the incapacitated, the elderly and the economically poor, as well as supervising the staff and student nurses in a community-based nursing agency. Beginning with her work for the Farmington Valley Visiting Nurses’ Association, for many years she cared for the sick in their homes, counseled clients in housing projects, and did advocacy work to improve the quality of life for the elderly. To better serve the needs of this population, she began studying in 1975 to become an Adult Medicine Nurse Practitioner, completing the licensing program at Hartford Hospital in 1976.

In 1980, another chapter in Pauline’s missionary journey began when she went to work for Triage, Inc., a federal demonstration project based in Plainville, Connecticut, which provided home care services to the elderly. In 1981, this project evolved into Connecticut Community Care, Inc. located in Bristol, Connecticut. Pauline described the focus of this new ministry as an effort to maintain the elderly in their own homes and prevent their institutionalization. She was known for her compassionate outreach and her willingness to take whatever time was necessary to meet the variety of her patients’ needs, including doing their grocery shopping or cooking them a hot meal during her visits to their homes. Pauline was a case manager par excellence, beloved by her patients and their families. For five years, she also conducted a research project for this organization and commuted regularly to Norwich, Connecticut. Her ability to handle difficult situations and to seek out community resources for the patients on her caseload made her a legend among her colleagues. She is remembered by them for her dedication to the nursing profession and her numerous social commitments and activities on the weekends.

We remember Pauline as a vibrant, energetic and long-time member of the Eastern United States Region, whose insightful comments on Maryknoll Sisters Congregational matters we valued greatly. She served as a member of the Regional Governing Board from 1992 to 1994. Pauline was intensely interested also in the social justice issues confronting us in mission in the United States. Keenly aware of systemic injustices, she was especially concerned about local and state government issues that might adversely affect the lives of the elderly people she served.

Pauline delighted in hostessing New England area meetings and the many Burns’ family gatherings at the home she shared with Betty and her mother. She loved a party, and often found reasons to celebrate, which ignited that trademark sparkle in her bright blue eyes. Pauline literally “owned” the kitchen in their home. Ever the talented and bountiful cook, her many culinary creations were eagerly anticipated and always enjoyed by those she entertained.

Pauline began to experience health problems in the mid-1990’s, which eventually led to her retirement from full-time nursing ministry in 1996. After retirement, she joined the Elizabeth Ministry Group in her local parish, a part-time visitation ministry to women in their homes. It soon became evident however, that her strength was not equal to undertaking yet another new and challenging ministry. These latter years of physical diminishment and constant pain were borne by Pauline with great patience and endurance.

She was a strong, empathetic and wise, yet astonishingly simple woman, whose practical insights and deep sensitivity to the unspoken needs of the human heart made her a treasured community member, valued colleague and special friend. Pauline never backed away from a challenge or from reaching out in love to meet the needs of another. Her personal approach to spirituality was always simple, pure and uncomplicated. In her room at home, Pauline had prominently displayed the little plaque describing Mother Mary Joseph’s qualities of a Maryknoll Sister.

“I would have her distinguished by Christ-like charity, a limpid simplicity of soul, heroic generosity, selflessness, unswerving loyalty, prudent zeal, gracious courtesy, an adaptable disposition, solid piety, and the saving grace of a kindly humor.” Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, 1935

During her 32 years in the Eastern United States Region, we, her companions on the journey, often saw embodied in her all of these qualities, which she did not hesitate to place at the service of each person she met. Her presence in our midst reflected her strong integrity, deep compassion and quiet prayer. Truly she was a woman who acted justly, loved tenderly and walked humbly with her God.

Pauline stayed in touch with her own family members in Canada, and during her years of active ministry, she often drove to Ontario to spend some time with her siblings and many friends, usually bringing with her a carload of gifts and goodies. She will be dearly missed by them, and by all of us in the Eastern United States Region, but most especially by her dearest friend and community companion, Betty Burns, and all the members of the Burns clan, who claimed her as their own beloved “Auntie Paul.”

At Pauline’s request, her wake and funeral were celebrated in the local area where she had lived and worked since 1973. Her wake took place at the Burns’ residence in Wethersfield, Connecticut, on February 22, 2005, and was attended by numerous friends, former colleagues, Maryknoll Sisters and members of the Gibbons and Burns families. Her nephew, Rev. Paul Walsh, CSB, of Owen Sound, Ontario, and her parish priests, Rev. John Edwards and Rev. James Moran concelebrated the Liturgy of Christian Burial at the Church of the Incarnation in Wethersfield, Connecticut, on February 23, 2005. Interment will take place on February 25, 2005, at the Maryknoll Sisters cemetery, Maryknoll, New York.