Birth: October 14, 1917
Profession: February 11, 1947
Death: February 17, 2007
Sister Eileen McDonnell, a Religious of the Sacred Heart who served as a pastoral minister for more than two decades, died Saturday, Feb. 17 (2007) at Kenwood Convent of the Sacred Heart, a retirement center for her religious order in Albany, New York. She was 89 and had been a member of her religious order, the Society of the Sacred Heart, for nearly 70 years.
Sister McDonnell’s primary work at the parish was serving the elderly, sick and poor. In addition to making home visitations as a Eucharistic minister, she described her ministry as “feeding the hungry, being a voice for the voiceless, being aware of what I can learn from the people.” Her work with the poor followed decades of service in Sacred Heart schools.
Sister McDonnell entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1937. She professed her first vows in 1940 and her final vows in 1946. She earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and history Manhattanville College, a school founded by her religious order, in 1947. She studied theology throughout the 1970s at schools in New York and Boston, including Union Theological Seminary, Iona College and Boston College.
From 1940 to 1967, Sister McDonnell worked as a teacher and administrator in Sacred Heart schools in Rochester, N.Y., Detroit and Grosse Point, Mich. Greenwich, Conn., Albany, N.Y., and at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City (1959 to 1965). From 1967 to 1977, she served as superior of her religious community in Bloomfield Hill, Mich., and in New York City.
In 1977, she began her ministry of service to the poor of Manhattan, first at St. Monica Catholic Church and then at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on West 51st Street, where she worked for two decades with Sister Ana Ospina, another Religious of the Sacred Heart. (Sister Ana Ospina died January 19, 2007, preceding Sister McDonnell in death by one month.)
Sister McDonnell continued her ministry at Sacred Heart church, first full-time and later part-time, until she moved to the Kenwood Convent in 1999.
Sister Bea Brennan, a Religious of the Sacred Heart living in Atherton, California, formerly of New York City, said Sister McDonnell had “instinctively taken the part of the underdog” wherever she was. “And all that she did was interspersed with laughter and a self-deprecating admission that she hardly knew what to do about the many problems that came her way.”
A funeral service for Sister McDonnell will be held at Kenwood Convent at 10 a.m. February 22, preceded by a vigil service at 4:30 p.m. February 21. She will be buried in the Sacred Heart cemetery on the convent grounds.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Society of the Sacred Heart, 4100 Forest Park Avenue, Suite A, St. Louis, MO 63108.