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November 15, 2019

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Remembering Sister Agnes Kelly, OSB

 

Our dear Sister Agnes Kelly, OSB died peacefully in the early morning hours on Sunday, February 17, 2019, after a lengthy illness. She passed into the loving arms of God. Born in Evanston, she felt called to enter the Benedictines following her secondary education at St. Scholastica High School in Chicago. She entered the monastery in 1942 and then ministered at schools in both Colorado and Illinois with her longest and final assignment of 49 years, as an educator at Saint Scholastica High School. The gift of her voice, love of gardening, and engaging in lively conversations will be part of her legacy. We invite you to learn more about Sister Agnes in the following biography written by Sister Benita Coffey, OSB.

          Lois Mae Kelly was born in Evanston, Illinois, on May 20, 1924, the daughter of William V. Kelly and Ada Marie Johnson and was baptized on June 15. While enrolled at St. Nicholas Parish School, she was confirmed on May 24, 1936, shortly after her twelfth birthday.

 

                Her secondary education was at St. Scholastica High School in Chicago. Already her talent in music and her fine singing voice were recognized and she performed a full recital in 1941. The 1942 yearbook caption with Lois’ senior picture reads “features a thrilling voice which promises nothing less than a ‘Met’ career”.

 

Lois, however, had other plans and her voice was to be used primarily in God’s praise and in teaching countless youth of all ages how to sing well. She entered St. Scholastica Monastery on September 15, 1942, as a postulant.

 

On July 11, 1943, Lois received the Benedictine habit, was given the name Sister Agnes, and began the novitiate year. She professed triennial vows on August 18, 1944. The next month she began teaching second grade at Queen of All Saints parish school while continuing to live at the monastery. Sister Agnes remained on the faculty there for six years. During that time, on August 18, 1947, she made her perpetual vows.

 As was common practice at the time, young Sisters were shepherded into their new careers by the experienced teachers with whom they lived. As a beginning teacher, Sister Agnes was also supported by the Sister supervisor who worked with all the Benedictine Sisters teaching in Parish schools.

 

Along with teaching, these Sisters pursued their own college education. For Sister Agnes, this meant working to complete studies at DePaul University in Chicago. She earned both a Bachelor of Philosophy and a Master’s in Education there.

 

In fall of 1950, she was assigned to Colorado and began teaching at St. Leander Parish School in Pueblo. During the two years, she ministered there, directing a boys’ choir was among her extracurricular tasks. In autumn of 1952, her obedience found her back again in Chicago at Queen of All Saints where she served what would be her last four years as an elementary school teacher.

 

Joining the boarding school staff at Saint Scholastica Academy in Cañon City, Colorado was a significant change for her. For seven years, beginning in 1956, she was a teacher as well as a dormitory prefect. In addition to the task of preparing secondary classes for the first time, she also developed and directed joint music programs with her students and the glee club of Holy Cross Abbey School for boys, across town.

 

Many summers Sister Agnes served at vacation schools in Colorado. Among the places that were enriched by her music, as well as her religion classes, were Saint Michael’s Parish in Cañon City and the parishes in Alamosa, Las Animas, Ordway, Gunnison, and Redcliffe.

 

When asked to return to Chicago in 1963, Sister Agnes began what would be her longest and final assignment as an educator. For 49 years, she served at Saint Scholastica High School, her own alma mater, and handled a full schedule. Her teaching assignments were in math and social studies, in addition to music. Over the years she directed the freshman chorus, later the Glee Club, and taught private voice lessons.

When asked to return to Chicago in 1963, Sister Agnes began what would be her longest and final assignment as an educator. For 49 years, she served at Saint Scholastica High School, her own alma mater, and handled a full schedule. Her teaching assignments were in math and social studies, in addition to music. Over the years she directed the freshman chorus, later the Glee Club, and taught private voice lessons.

 

As a devoted Benedictine, Sister Agnes enriched the community liturgies with the gift of her voice. Remembered especially for the annual Christmas Proclamation, major role in Good Friday’s sung Passion and the Easter Exultet, her service as chanter will never be forgotten.

 

Her rendering of the Ave Maria added to the solemnity of countless liturgies for funerals Masses and other community events. On numerous occasions, she was invited by family or friends to come to sing for weddings or funerals at parishes in the Chicago area as well as in southern Wisconsin.

 

Sister Agnes gave of herself through her long life as a Benedictine. She would have celebrated her 75th Jubilee this summer. She enjoyed visiting, loved to talk, and always easily engaged in conversation. Whenever possible she attended the annual reunions of St. Scholastica Academy. Because of her many years on the faculty, hundreds of the graduates knew and remembered her fondly. Her cordial manner was not forgotten by her former students who learned from and loved her.

 

Consistently active in her monastic family, she was very close to her sister, Patricia Sacco, and Pat’s many children and grandchildren all of whom visited often and remained in touch even when they lived at a distance. She encouraged them to make use of the monastery gardens and several of them came regularly and worked with her in the plot that she treasured and cared for over many years, formerly the Novitiate Garden.

 

 

 

Sister Agnes found pleasure both in outdoor gardens and household plants. Her other hobbies included macramé and other crafts that brought joy to her and beauty to others. She actively engaged in the weekly art class provided for the senior Sisters.

 

 

              

In 2012, having been semi-retired for six years, Sister Agnes moved into St. Joseph Court, where she was able to continue to be active in liturgies. She served as a regular chanter for Sunday Mass in St. Scholastica Chapel and was a faithful member of the special choir, the Schola of the community. 

 

With the assistance of her walker, Sister Agnes observed the common life of prayer, meals, meetings, and service until her final week. She had been troubled over the past few years, with heart and lung issues that had meant for her extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation, but more than once she was able to regain strength and become active again.

 

However, when she was unable to breathe on her own in the early morning of February 10, she was hospitalized at once and provided all the available devices, procedures, and medical assistance. When her condition continued to worsen, hospice care was begun. Comforted by the Anointing of the Sick and supported by the presence of many of her family, she lingered just a few days. She died in the early morning hours of Sunday, February 17.

 

Sister Agnes is survived by her sister, Pat Sacco, and many nieces and nephews, as well as their children and grandchildren, in addition to her Benedictine Sisters. Her funeral will be Monday, February 25, 2019, and she will be interred in All Saints Cemetery, Des Plaines, Illinois.

 

To read the reflection given at her funeral by Sister Judith Murphy, Prioress, click here.

 

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