A Little Sister of the Poor Turns 100

Tags: Currents, 100 years old, Birthday, Brooklyn, NY, Crux, Diocese of Brooklyn, Faith, Family, Inspiration, Nun, Queens, NY, Religious Life

By Jessica Easthope and Allyson Escobar

QUEENS VILLAGE — Call it the century-long luck of the Irish: Sister Mary Monica, L.S.P., a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor for almost 80 years and a native of Ireland, will turn 100 on Feb. 22.

“It’s like I’m dreaming,” Sister Mary Monica said on Feb. 4, when she celebrated her upcoming birthday with her fellow nuns and with the staff and other residents of Queen of Peace, a senior living center in Queens Village that’s run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“We are ever grateful to God that He has chosen Sister [Mary Monica] to be one of us, a missionary from Ireland,” said Sister Celine Therese, L.S.P. “She’s led an exemplary life and has been an inspiration to all of us Little Sisters of the Poor, who celebrate the culture of life … Even in her 100 years of life, she has always been very thoughtful, attentive to the needs of one another.”

The celebration in Queens Village started with a Mass in Queen of Peace’s chapel. That was followed by an Irish-themed party, complete with green punch, cake, a bagpiper and Irish dancers. Queen of Peace residents and about 60 Little Sisters of the Poor from across the East Coast joined the festivities. Sister Mary Monica’s little sister Phyllis and her niece surprised her by Skyping from Ireland.

The whole afternoon, Sister Mary Monica, who wears a hearing aid, danced and waved at everyone in her wheelchair.

What’s her secret to a long, happy life?

“Do unto others what you would want done to you,” she says.

Her 100th birthday wish is that “we may all become worthy of the promises of Christ.”

“It was all in God’s plan, His grace, to get to this age. God’s grace. It’s all in His hands,” Sister Mary Monica said.

Sister Mary Monica was born Anne Patricia in Dublin, the fourth of eight children.

She grew up in Dublin in a devout Catholic family, praying the rosary and visiting church every day. At the age of 12, she went to live with her ailing grandmother in Galway, Ireland — her first time caring for a sick and elderly person.

Her grandmother passed when Sister Mary Monica was 19 years old. She then began to work for the Irish Sisters of Charity in hospice care. That was her first exposure to religious life. She remembers an “impactful” moment when a Sister of Charity encouraged her to become a Little Sister of the Poor because “she possessed their spirit.”

In 1941, Sister Mary Monica entered the novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Dublin. “It’s always been a wonderful community,” she said.

As a novice, Sister Mary Monica cared for sick and elderly sisters in her community. She came to the United States for an assignment at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s home in Newark, N.J.

She then moved to Somerville, Mass., outside of Boston. She lived there for 25 years and became known as the “Begging Sister” for her charitable work. She was then transferred to the Little Sisters’ community in Montreal, where she spent 35 years caring for elderly sisters.

In between her duties as a religious nun, Sister Mary Monica made regular trips to visit her family in Ireland. She has lived at Queen of Peace since 2009, and “has not let age deter her constant service of the elderly and poor,” her fellow sisters say.

Sister Maria Catherine, who works in Queen of Peace’s infirmary, says some of her fondest memories have been caring for Sister Mary Monica. They first met while Sister Maria Catherine was in the Little Sisters’ novitiate, which is next door to Queen of Peace.

“She is always so joyful and upbeat; no matter what,” Sister Maria Catherine said.

“For [Sister Mary Monica], it was always about the will of God, and she finds something good in it. She is so grateful for all she receives, and can find God in all people.

“I think what Sister Mary Monica teaches me: to forget yourself. It takes a great deal to make others happy. And she’s always concerned about everybody else, never about herself. For me, as a young nun, our generation needs to witness that: it’s not able you, it’s about Him. Her whole joy is about belonging to God.”