Irish-born religious recall leaving homeland to devote lives to U.S. kids

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jerri Donohue

By Jerri Donohue

Ohio (CNS) — When Sister Anne McCrohan said goodbye to her parents and most
of her 10 siblings at a train station in County Kerry, she thought it was

age 18, Sister McCrohan had agreed to go to America to teach parochial school

just had the desire to do something special with the life God gave me,” the
86-year-old Religious Sister of Mercy said of her youthful commitment.

World War II, American classrooms swelled with baby boomers. Desperate for English-speaking
sisters, some bishops turned to Ireland for help. Sister McCrohan arrived in
the Diocese of Sacramento, California, in 1949, but Irish Sisters of Mercy had
been working there since 1857. For more than 100 years, none returned home.

McCrohan adapted to religious life, college and a new country — all at the
same time.

they lived with American and Mexican sisters, she and her four companions made
an immediate adjustment.

couldn’t talk Irish all day long and ignore everybody else,” Sister McCrohan
said in a phone interview from Auburn, California.

Irish-born pastors eventually urged the Mercy sisters’ superiors to permit home
visits. Somehow the priests arranged for funds for four or five sisters to make
the trip each summer.

Sister McCrohan’s turn came in 1963, she already had made final vows, graduated
from college and become an American citizen. She fondly recalls her family’s first
joyful reunion.

was amazing,” she said. “There was a group of about 22 at the airport to greet

Fabian Quigley left Tipperary, Ireland, in 1949 as a 15-year old postulant of
the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Religious vocations were common in her

father had four sisters as nuns and a brother a priest,” Sister Quigley said.

Cleveland, she graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school and started
college. She didn’t struggle with homesickness because there were many other Irish
sisters in the community.

used to be a little more difficult was ‘visiting Sunday’ for the postulants and
novices, when their families came and we had nobody coming,” she recalled.

Quigley received her first teaching assignment, a class of 65 sixth-graders, as
soon as she completed two years of college. She then went to school on
Saturdays and during the summer until she earned her degree. She was excused
from work the day she and 11 other Sisters of the Incarnate Word became U.S.
citizens. Sister Quigley rode the bus back to the convent, clutching her little
American flag.

returned to Ireland nine years after her departure.

couldn’t believe my brother, because he had grown up,” she said. “I forgot I
had grown up, too.”

home became more frequent for Sister Quigley and other Irish sisters in later

community was absolutely wonderful to us,” she said.

Loreto Sister
Josephine O’Brien was a 31-year-old teacher when she and four other
Loreto sisters arrived in Phoenix in 1954. They wore long serge habits, lived
without air-conditioning and suffered in the hot weather. But Sister O’Brien
remembers their happiness.

had great fun among ourselves,” she said. “We did Irish dancing and things like
that. We were still Irish.”

her students misbehaved, Sister O’Brien sometimes reprimanded them in Gaelic, a
successful ploy to quiet them.

taught for two decades in Arizona and California before encountering a quirk of
American culture when she transferred to the Chicago area. Another woman religious
asked Sister O’Brien if she was a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan. Sister O’Brien was
neither, and so the sister advised her to be a Sox fan like everyone else in
the house.

so I’m a Sox fan, even though I don’t know a thing about it,” Sister O’Brien

returned to County Offaly several times. Her doctor ruled out travel for health
reasons 14 year ago. Six nephews and her brother, a missionary priest home on
leave from Africa, came to America for her 60th jubilee.

95, Sister O’Brien misses the sisters who came to the States with her in 1954.

have all gone to God,” she said.

spends St. Patrick’s Day listening to Irish music alone in her room.

never not lonely on St. Patrick’s Day,” Sister O’Brien said. “I’m at home that
day in my own mind.”

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