Dominican Sister of Peace Kathryn McQuillan, OP, died on February 23, 2015, at the age of 95 at Sansbury Care Center (St. Catharine, KY). Born in Philadelphia in 1919 to Philip and Theresa Hartman, Kathryn was one of 11 children. Three of those children would become religious Sisters. One would become a priest.The following is the eulogy prepared by Sr. Pat Moran, OP, and delivered at her funeral by Sr. Cass McKernan, OP:
Kathryn entered the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine de’ Ricci in 1936 and professed first vows in 1939. Her sibling, Sr. Marie McQuillan, had also entered the Dominicans. After the Second Vatican Council, when our ministries became diverse, the two became inseparable. Today it is difficult to remember Kathryn without speaking about Marie because they were such true kindred spirits in their dedication to Dominican life and contemplative prayer and study. Scripture and the sacramental life fueled their passion to live simply and care for the marginalized and poor of this world. This is where they found Christ.
Today’s readings fully capture Kathryn McQuillan’s life mission throughout her 78 years in religious life. The first reading from Isaiah 61 describes those sent by God to bring glad tidings to the lowly and to heal the broken hearted as “oaks of justice planted by the Lord to show his glory.” From her earliest days, Kathryn became an “oak of justice” revealing God’s glory through the diversified ministries in which she found herself planted.
The early 1940s brought her to Cuba to teach at the Dominican Academy for girls. Here she experienced and came to love a different culture, a different environment, climate and most importantly, a people who spoke a different language, and who were hungry for the teachings of Christ taught and modeled by the American Dominicans Sisters. Kathryn spent two years in Cuba and then moved on to the Congregation’s residences in Dayton, OH, and Philadelphia, PA, where she stayed for the next 17 years. The residences provided safe and affordable homes for working women and foreign students. Kathryn often said this ministry predated the women’s movement because women were encouraged to pursue personal and professional goals in an environment that emphasized the spiritual life as the guiding force.
Kathryn was a lifelong devotee of education, believing it was the catalyst for personal growth and necessary for serving diverse ministries needed in the Church. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Villanova University in PA, and two master degrees, one in religious studies from the University of Dayton (Dayton, OH) and another in counseling from Rollins College (Winter Park, FL).
Like a “rolling stone” Kathryn then moved on to catechetical work serving as a Director of Religious Education. In Florida she ministered at Homestead Air Force Base, and served parishes in New York and Georgia. Sr. Marie joined her in Georgia, then North Carolina where they began working with migrant workers and serving as advocates for black Catholics against racism. They also visited prisons and offered bible classes. Yet, even stronger than social justice was their zeal for the care of creation.
Kathryn and Marie devoured the documents of Vatican II, embracing and implementing their mandate for cultural and theological renewal within religious life and the Church.
At Congregational gatherings, they became prophetic voices exhorting the Sisters to preach with our lives and “don’t just talk the talk, we’ve also got to walk the walk.” They challenged each Sister to be all that God calls her to be – “oaks of justice.”
In 1992 they returned to Elkins Park – (supposedly to retire) where they worked on weekends in the retreat ministry at Saint Dominic’s hall, working in the kitchen where they insisted upon fresh meals, taught the cooks to prepare food from scratch and deplored any food wasted. On Sunday mornings they gave the retreatants a presentation about their work with “Habitat for Humanity.” They had a slide show which included photos of each of them wearing hard hats, carpenters belts, nailing walls side by side with young idealists who were captivated by them. These pictures drew the loudest response from the retreat audiences! The women, most being half the age of the McQuillan sisters, were mesmerized by their energy and zeal for the poor. After every session women would comment: “Did you see those two!” “I need to do more” or, “I will never complain again!”
Kathryn and Marie lived in a little cottage on the grounds of Elkins Park. They had a “worm farm” for compost and planted a huge vegetable garden behind their residence where they grew and shared with neighbors their own organic food. They also belonged to the national “Sisters of the Earth” group and the Intercommunity Commission for Peace and Justice in Philadelphia. Well into their late 70s, they attended as many lectures as they possibly could offered by the numerous Catholic Universities in Philadelphia. It was at one such lecture that Marie had her massive stroke and died a few days later. Marie’s death would create a deep grief and personal loss in Kathryn that never really healed itself, yet she continued her work for the environment.
The gospel reading for today describes Jesus’ return and saying to the nations assembled before him: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
On the day she entered eternal life we can imagine him saying the same words to Kathryn and Kathryn’s response: “when did I do these things for you?” And…we know from today’s Gospel how Christ answered: “Amen, I say to you, Kathryn, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me!”
Our sister Kathryn McQuillan, was a “true oak of justice.“ Her life’s purpose was to reveal God’s glory and her mission has now been completed. Run off to God dear Sister and thank you.
A Memorial Service was held at Sansbury Care Center on Wednesday, March 4, with a Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday March 5. Burial in St. Catharine cemetery followed.
Memorial gifts in Sr. Kathryn’s memory may be submitted securely online at www.oppeace.org or sent to Dominican Sisters of Peace, Office of Mission Advancement, 2320 Airport Dr., Columbus, OH 43219-2098.