AMITYVILLE — Sister Francis Dominici Piscatella says, “I’m nobody special. I’m no better than anybody else.”
While her modesty is becoming, she is incorrect.
Sister Francis, a member of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, is indeed special. At 110 years of age, she has the distinction of being the oldest nun in the U.S. She is also the second oldest ecclesiastical person in the world.
Woodrow Wilson was in the White House when Sister Francis was born on April 20, 1913. She has lived through 19 U.S. presidents, two world wars, 10 popes, and the Internet Age.
On April 20, 2023 — her 110th birthday — a party was held for her at the sisters’ motherhouse in Amityville. A large contingent of her family, more than 20 in number, came to the party to help her celebrate her big day.
Sister Peggy McVetty, the prioress sister of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, talked about the significance of Sister Francis’ milestone. “We have a supercentenarian with us today,” she said, explaining how rare a feat the elderly nun had accomplished. “Only 1 in 1,000 get to be a supercentenarian.”
Sister Francis was presented with a birthday cake and had to be helped out of her chair to blow out the candles. But she gamely took a big knife and cut the first piece.
Her day started off the way all of her days begin — with a Mass. Thursday’s Mass was celebrated by Msgr. Ned Ryan at the convent chapel.
Sister Francis appeared surprised at the attention she was getting. “I’m grateful to see everyone here. But I’m just a normal person. What can I say? I’m no better than anybody else,” she said.
Sister Francis, who was born Ursula Piscatella in Central Islip, Long Island, was one of seven children. Her family has always called her Lee.
She has not had an easy life. At the age of 2, she was seriously injured in an accident and had to have her left forearm amputated. “My mother made me completely independent. She never let anyone help me. Whatever a person with two hands could do, I could do. I’ve lived a normal life,” she said.
Despite tough times, she has dedicated her life to God and said it has made her happy. “I am at peace,” she added.
Sister Francis entered the convent at age 17. Even back then, she showed grit and determination. The religious community bestowed a name on her, but she didn’t like it and boldly requested a new one. So, she was given another one, Sister Francis Dominici. She liked it and it stuck.
Sister Francis earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. With her aptitude for numbers, she taught high school algebra and then taught math for 52 years at Molloy Catholic College (now Molloy University) in Rockville Centre. She retired at the age of 85.
Over the years, Sister Francis has encouraged numerous sisterly vocations and even served as a sponsor for nuns entering the convent.
These days, she lives in an apartment in East Williston, Long Island, with a close friend, Sister Francis Kammer, who was one of her students decades ago and who now looks after her. “She was the greatest teacher I ever had,” Sister Francis Kammer said.
“She’s an amazing person. We go to Mass every day. She’s slowed down a lot, of course. But when you have a heart filled with love, like she does, it gets you through the day,” she added.
By the way, the second oldest nun in the U.S. is Sister Evelyn Hurley, of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who turned 108 on March 7.
Cynthia Grimley, Sister Francis’ great-niece, said her great-aunt is an inspiration to the entire family. “She’s someone we always looked up to. We all wanted to be like her because she was always so happy and content with life,” she said.
Sister Francis has also done something else important for her family — bringing them closer to their Catholic faith. “She’s always asking us if we went to church,” Grimley said.
The years pass so quickly that it seems like just yesterday the family gathered for Sister Francis’ 100th birthday 10 years ago. “I remember thinking at that time, ‘She’s getting older. How many more of these will we get to celebrate with her?’ ” Grimley said. “And look where we are today. She’s amazing.”
Tags: Molloy University, oldest nun in America, Sister Francis Dominici Piscatella, Sister Francis Kammer, Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville