Sister William Eugene Cashin, MM

Born: March 4, 1906
Entered: September 6, 1945
Died: March 3, 1996

We are gathered this morning to remember and to celebrate the life of Sister William Eugene Cashin, affectionately known to many as “Bess.” Although Sister had been in Residential Care since 1990, no one was prepared for the news of her death on Sunday morning, March 3rd. While she was frail, she had been holding her own, regularly participating in the community liturgy on Sunday mornings, as well as Sunday Vespers.

Elizabeth Cashin was born into a warm and close-knit family on March 4, 1906 in Newark, New Jersey. She was one of 7 children – 5 daughters and 2 sons – born to Elizabeth Croak and Matthew J. Cashin. In 1912, probably about the same time Bess started first grade at St. Antoninus School in Newark, her uncle Msgr. William Eugene Cashin moved to Ossining, having been assigned as the first resident chaplain of Sing Sing Prison. Since his mother and two sisters came with him, the Cashin Family were frequent visitors. The children’s fond attachment to their beloved uncle was intensified when their father died in 1913.

The uncle’s move to Ossining and his early association with the fledgling Maryknoll community were very significant in the children’s lives, probably most of all for Bess. Even of late, she vividly recalled her visits to Ossining when “Uncle Will would take us to Maryknoll for the ride and some of the Teresians would entertain us.” The family continued visiting Maryknoll over the years and in 1929 when Helen entered, their trips became more frequent. In the meantime, Bess had attended Drake’s Business School in Newark from 1921-1922 and subsequently became Msgr. Cashin’s secretary.

In her personal recollections on her relationship with Mother Mary Joseph, Sister William Eugene unfolds a charming story: “During the years Cardinal Hayes was Ordinary, Sisters were not permitted to drive in New York City. Since I was secretary to Monsignor, Mother Mary Joseph felt free to call on me for help, knowing Monsignor would say yes. The Sisters would drive as far as the city line on Dyckman Street where I would meet them. I never knew where we were going or for how long. It didn’t matter. I was always prepared, for I loved being with Mother Mary Joseph.” Without identifying the year, she went on to relate how, one day, when she was sitting alone in the car with Mother Mary Joseph, she announced in a nonchalant way, that she would be entering Maryknoll that December. “Right then and there,” she said, “we had a serious conversation. Mother told me I should continue as Monsignor’s secretary for the time being. Several years passed and in early 1945 when Monsignor was taken ill with a heart condition, Mother Mary Joseph, Sisters Mary dePaul, Mary Helen, Mary James and Teresa Marie, came to the hospital to see him. We were all with him when he died. Mother Mary Joseph said, ‘Now, Bess, if you still want to enter Maryknoll you may.'”

In the intervening years Bess had completed her high school requirements through the Maryknoll program which was affiliated with the Catholic University of America. Thus, as a mature candidate of 39, on September 6, 1945 Bess fulfilled her dream and became one of the 99 candidates that year. At the wake service yesterday evening we heard from some of her group-mates that she knew the answers to all their questions and acquainted them with the warm Maryknoll family through the many “inside” stories which she had cherished from childhood. Just before Reception, Sister Paul Miriam amplified her wry comment, that Bess was “wearing” well, with the qualities which we came to know and love in Sister William Eugene: she was gracious, generous, well-balanced, very simple in asking direction, a grateful spirit. To Sister Paul Miriam’s assessment, Sister Celine Marie added: “Bess is everything we knew her to be before she entered. Her spirit has been simple, beautiful and generous.” At Reception, Bess became Sister William Eugene. She pronounced her First Vows on March 7, 1948 at Maryknoll, New York and her Final Vows on the same date in 1951, also here at Maryknoll.

Sister William Eugene’s well-honed secretarial skills remained at the service of the Community throughout her life. While meeting the needs of Mother Mary Joseph until she died in 1955, she also served in the Council Secretariat with Mother Mary Columba and Mother Mary Coleman. In 1970, when Mother Mary Coleman went out of office, Sister William Eugene accompanied her as an invaluable co-worker in the development of the Congregational Archives. In 1982, Sister William Eugene also assumed the Immigration work for our Sisters who are nationals of other countries, until failing health led to her retirement in 1987.

Consistently throughout life, Sister William Eugene put herself at the disposal of others. Sister William Eugene’s dignity and quiet presence was always there for all of us. She remained actively interested not only in community affairs but especially in each one of us. Because her mission life was lived right here at Maryknoll, she was a constant in our lives: she was here when we entered; she saw us off to the missions; she was here to listen to our stories when we returned. She was a good listener and everything about us was always “just great!” Perhaps she was able to maintain a gracious even temper, even as she experienced diminishment, because of the two whom she claimed were looking after her: Sister Gilmary and God!

As we lead our Sister William Eugene to the altar of God this morning it is particularly fitting to apply to her the first verse of the Magnificat of Acceptance from Ann Johnson’s Miryam of Nazareth: “My soul trembles in the presence of the loving Creator and my spirit prepares itself to walk hand in hand with the God who saves Israel because I have been accepted by God as a simple helpmate.”

We extend our deepest sympathy and love to all the members of Sister William Eugene’s family who are with us today. We thank each of you for the gift of your sister, aunt and friend and we assure you of our ongoing remembrance in prayer. Let us now welcome our brother, Maryknoll Father Michael Duggan, who will lead us in the Liturgy of Resurrection.