Sr. Catherine Marie Servis, OP, entered eternal life on December 26, 2014, at Sansbury Care Center, St. Catharine, KY, after 68 years in religious life. She is survived by her brother Joseph along with many nieces and nephews including Donna Servis.
Sr. Pat Moran, OP, prepared a reflection:
We gather to remember the joyful presence of her life among us. For those of us who knew her well, “Doris,” “Auntie Doris” or “Sarge” (because of her take charge attitude towards projects) was the salt of the earth, a steady ender, a woman who was devoted to her Dominican community and to her family.
Catherine Marie chose the readings for her final Eucharist and they illuminate the interior relationship she had with God, which solidified her consecrated life. Catherine Marie was totally and unabashedly in love with God. Her prayer and sacramental life was the source of her unbridled energy, and joy. Each day she thanked God for the gift of her vocation. God, indeed, was the “beloved” to her.
So we are not surprised that the first reading would be from the Song of Songs: “My lover speaks; he says to me, ‘arise my beloved, my beautiful one and come.'” It was her simple beautiful intimacy with God, her childlike astonishment that God chose HER, which drove her to put forth only the best, to do everything with pride and perfection and to never see any type of work or service as mundane. Yet, she was proud of the sisters, proud of each one’s gifts and supported each sister according to her position in ministry.
Born Marie Doris Servis on July 1, 1927, in Philadelphia to Anna May and Frederick Servis, “Doris” was the only daughter of four children. She grew up in a home that was filled with laughter and celebration. She worked for the Frankford Arsenal during the World War II years and everyone was shocked when she entered the convent. She was a native of Philadelphia, home to the “Mummer’s Parade” a tradition not unlike the revelry of Marti Gras. She loved to do the Mummer’s strut and dress in the feathers and finery of the New Year’s Day string bands. Catherine Marie was a tap dancer and also played the organ. Her parents knew she would put her organ skills to use in the convent, but they were not sure about the tap dancing. Every Christmas, Doris decorated the community room and not even a plant was left without a decoration. We needed sun glasses to look at the tree because “more” was always better.
Catherine Marie’s 68 years were spent primarily in retreat ministry. She ministered on the retreat staff of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci in Albany, NY; at the Motherhouse in Media, PA, The Dominican Retreat and Conference Center, Niskayuna, NY and the Dominican Retreat House, Elkins Park, PA. Her ministry included coordinating volunteer services, dining room hospitality and organizing special fund raising events. She was famous for organizing a very successful annual “Night at the Races” in Niskayuna, NY, where the trumpeter from Saratoga Springs race track announced each race.
At the Dominican Retreat House in Elkins Park she oversaw the dining room. The tables were set to perfection, “Downton Abbey” style. Catherine Marie’s great gift was her gracious hospitality. She saw each person who came to our house as “angels in disguise.” Catherine Marie made each person feel special, loved, pampered, no request was too much trouble, no time schedule was more important than taking time with one who sought her out.
Sr. Catherine Marie worked closely with young adults and had a tremendous influence on them. She taught them with an eye for perfection, teaching them how to prepare the dining room for retreatants, conducting themselves in a professional manner, she insisted they wear uniforms that were neat and clean, but because of her personality she made the work fun for them. She loved them and they knew it. Through the years, many former servers spoke about their days with Catherine Marie and how much they learned from her. She taught them life skills as well as food service skills. One former server who is now a Dominican Associate said: “Sarge really made us move in that dining room, but after all the work was done, she sure knew how to party. We never knew then what a great role model we had and how lucky we were to work and to have her as a boss.”
In 2003, Sr. Catherine Marie began a ministry of prayer at Saint Catherine Hall in Elkins Park, PA; and later in Quakertown, PA, and Danville, PA.
A lifelong devotee of horse racing, a family with ties to tracks around the country, she was thrilled to be the aunt of the trainer of “Smarty Jones” the winner of the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. All the sisters were on hand to cheer on the horse, but we were really cheering Catherine Marie.
But make no mistake; Catherine Marie knew the purpose of life was more than good times. In the gospel reading of Matthew, which she chose for today, Jesus comes to separate the goats from the sheep. The goats are those who lived lives ignoring the Gospel and the sheep are those blessed by God because they lived their lives in service to others. Catherine Marie would never be among the goats.
She knew that those placed on the right would spend a lifetime getting there. A life dedicated to God came with responsibility, with obligation, with a mission to be fulfilled. Sr. Catherine Marie saw a reflection of Christ in the least of her brothers and sisters and treated them accordingly. It is appropriate that God came for her during the Christmas season because it was the great feast she loved most – the Word becoming Incarnate. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.
Last week, when Jesus came and said to her: “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one and come,” she was ready. For 68 years, the thousands of people who came to our doors, could say to and of her: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.
We delight in thinking that she was ready when Jesus came with his call – her dancing shoes were already on, and the clicking beat of her tap shoes could be heard as they entered into a celebration she never could imagine or dream of in this life.
Thank you dear Sister for all the joy and love you gave for so many years. Your life was a gift to us – the laughter and the tears.
A Memorial Mass was celebrated on Wednesday, January 7, at Sansbury Care Center Chapel, St. Catharine, KY. Interment will be held on January 16 in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham, PA.
Memorial gifts in Sr. Catherine Marie’s memory may be submitted securely online or sent to Dominican Sisters of Peace, Office of Mission Advancement, 2320 Airport Dr, Columbus, OH 43219-2098.