Remembering S. John Raymond McGann, C.S.J.
January 25, 2016 BK LI
The St. Joseph's College community mourns the passing of S. John Raymond McGann, C.S.J., and honors her extraordinary contributions to the College.
The history of St. Joseph's College is rich and storied. Its memories can be told in the 100 years of graduates produced, the success of our programs and our continual growth in the community. But whenever we celebrate SJC, it's important to celebrate the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who are the pillars of the College, our values, our development.
Earlier this January we lost a significant member of our St. Joseph's family. S. John Raymond McGann, C.S.J., passed away on January 6 at the age of 91. During her longstanding career at the College, she made extraordinary contributions to both SJC Brooklyn and SJC Long Island. She served as chairperson of the Department of Education, and remained lovingly devoted to SJC since 1956.
Upon learning of S. John Raymond's passing, the SJC community astounded us with their support. The outpouring of condolences and remembrances was overwhelming. Facebook threads and personal emails tell the story of a woman immersed in giving back, assisting those less fortunate and pursuing a higher cause than herself.
Below, we offer testimonials from several of those within the SJC community who knew S. John Raymond best. As we move forward with the semester and ultimately toward our centennial commencement in May 2016, it is crucial to remember those who paved the way for St. Joseph's College, and keep them in our hearts.
Thank you, S. John Raymond, for your unwavering support, your kindness, your courage. We will miss you.
S. Nancy Gilchriest ’83, SSND, Ed.D.
Associate Professor, Education Department Chair
Sister John Raymond will be remembered as a remarkable educator in the truest sense of the word. Sister was tireless in enabling people to be the best they could be. Through keen listening and serious encouragement, Sister would support faculty and students alike at every opportunity. Many of the Education Department faculty members recall that Sister’s kindness, patience and support allowed them to develop their talents into areas of expertise for the benefit of many.
At Sister John Raymond’s invitation, many of my dreams became realities for the department and for me. Her encouragement even exhibited a degree of humor. A delightful memory of Sister John Raymond is from when I drove her to the Patchogue campus one day. After navigating more traffic than usual, Sister John Raymond looked at me and said, “You know, if this teaching thing doesn’t work out, you could always be a taxi driver!” So, now I know my next career!
May God reward Sister John Raymond!
S. Elizabeth A. Hill ’64, C.S.J., J.D.
Former President of St. Joseph's College
I am glad to be able to just say what a remarkable woman she was, and how grateful I am to have known her and lived with her for so many years. She was completely dedicated to the Church, to the College, to her sisters and her students, and she gave herself in generous service to everyone she met. She truly lived as every Sister of St. Joseph strives to live...prayerfully, simply, and compassionately.
Countless people were touched by her through the years, and many lives were altered for the better! She was an inspiration to all of us, and we will miss her very much.
S. Mary Ann Cashin, C.S.J.
Assistant Professor and Child Study Department Chair
Eyes open, ears attentive, spirit alert, sleeves rolled up for ministry in order to understand what God and the dear neighbor await from her today.
These words come to mind as I remember Sister John Raymond's commitment to service. Not only did she dedicate her own life to serving the needs of others, she supported initiatives which would bring the Sisters of St. Joseph to address and meet new needs in neighborhoods near and far. These new initiatives had her unfailing support and presence.
The quote above ends with the reminder that the service of a Sister of St. Joseph is characterized by "continual joy of spirit." There is no doubt that Sister John Raymond possessed that spirit and nurtured it in others.
S. Babs Barry, C.S.J. and S. Jane Reilly, C.S.J.
(Sisters visited by S. John Raymond while they served in the Dominican Republic)
In the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph there is a saying that where the Sister is so is the mission. In 1980, Sister John Raymond affirmed “the call within a call” of Sister Babs Barry and Sister Jane Reilly to join the mission team of the new mission of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in the Dominican Republic. Sister John expressed her interest and support in many ways including a visit to the Sisters. They lived in a remote mountain village near the border of Haiti.
During an arduous journey over unpaved roads, the beauty of the mountains served as a backdrop for simple homes of wood with roofs of banana leaves. Women went about their daily tasks of fetching water from the stream, and gathering fire wood for kitchen fires while men raked over drying coffee beans. Barefoot, scantily clad children played in the dirt using sticks and stones as props.
Accompanying the Sisters on their visits to families, Sister John was warmly received by the people with hearty embraces and smiles. Often, she was offered an orange, an avocado, an egg to remember her visit. She was interested in learning the rigorous process of harvesting rice, beans and coffee. The women showed how they prepared meals in the cookhouse over open fires with a large cooking pot perched on three rocks.
The goal of Sister John Raymond’s visit was her desire to give the Sisters support and encouragement which was greatly appreciated. Her support also demonstrated her deep faith and trust in God and in two of her Sisters to bring about the reign of God in a place on earth so vastly different from what was known on Long Island.
Mary Butz ’69, Member of St. Joseph's College Board of Trustees
Independent Consultant, Edspiration Enterprises LLC
Sister John Raymond McGann was an extraordinary woman. She was unwavering in her convictions: her faith, the value of her religious community, and the importance of her students. As a young woman in St. Joseph's College I learned that she believed that each of us had great potential. She encouraged us to stretch and reach that potential.
She spoke with each of us individually and told us about our gifts and her expectations (though silent) of our abilities to make our potential reach fruition. A conversation that was unheard of for most of us: the first female (if not the first) to go to college; the products of working-class homes — young women who had no idea what lay beyond the horizon.
She was a woman ahead of her time. She was not overtly warm, or vivacious, but scratch the surface and beneath it lay a truly joyous soul. I loved to make her laugh. Years after I graduated I kept in contact with her. I found out that she was elected "General Superior" of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood — the women who had educated me for most of my life. When I heard the news I visited sister at the college and brought her a congratulatory plant or some such thing. Our visit that day consisted of my telling her how pleased I was that SHE had finally reached HER potential and she roared with laughter.
She was a great teacher; a great woman and a manifestation of God's good work on this earth. She will be missed by many — me chief among them. Rest in peace sister.
S. Mary Florence Burns ’46, C.S.J.
(A transcript of the reflection at the conclusion of the Mass celebrated for S. John Raymond at Sacred Heart Chapel on January 12)
We have gathered here this morning to celebrate the life of S. John Raymond McGann, whose influence on each one of us has been profound. She never sought to bring attention to herself, but this morning she would be quietly pleased, and with a little smile, she would thank each one of us for “taking the time to come.”
The Church was certainly S. John Raymond’s life, but in the most profound sense, her life was rooted in the Lord’s answer to the question: which is the greatest commandment? His answer was clear and straightforward: Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole mind; and the second is like to it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [Matt:22:34-37] Love of God and love of neighbor were the touchstones of her life and provided the integrity that guided her private life and her public activities.
That profound love of God came to her through her family, the McGanns, with a loving, open, embracing spirit, with many visitors, with much hospitality, with great strength in times of sickness and suffering. Her strong sense of community really developed within her family and extended later to the Congregation and to the greater world beyond. And as restricted as she was in family visits in the early years, and as limited as her time was by the responsibilities of her later years, she loved each of her nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews, down to the fourth generation. She, who saw little need for vacations, thoroughly enjoyed the summer trips to Skinnneatelis, where the whole family gathered, and where Bishop John would say Mass in their midst. Let me share with you that each year she sought advice in the Dillon Child Study Center as to the appropriate toys to bring for the children. In later years, when her brother John would slip away for a week or so in the summer, she loved to cook for him and his priest friends. Her love was always expressed through service. Her prayers for every member of her family are now surely more powerful than ever.
S. John Raymond and S. Nancy Gilchriest with two students.
Through the years, the course of S. John Raymond’s life was determined by community and Congregational need. Her few years at Fontbonne were very happy ones, even though, as a young sister, she taught a full program, was responsible for the care of an elderly and infirm sister in the house, and began doctoral study in English at St. John’s University. In the midst of this kind of schedule, the superior told her, in kindly fashion, that she was doing very well, that “Sister, some day you will be of use to the community.” Even S. John Raymond told the story with a little laugh. Are we surprised, though, that before she left Fontbonne, four students expressed their interest in becoming Sisters of St. Joseph? And, as you would expect, all four have contributed significantly to the Congregation.
And then, in 1956, because of need, S. John Raymond was assigned to St. Joseph’s College to chair the Secondary Education Department, to take on the Counselling Office, and to complete the doctorate in psychology. From 1956 until 1978, she prepared many students for high school teaching, recognized and encouraged leadership qualities and special talents in many, and saved some from themselves. Those generations continue to extol her teaching and her advice.
Her overarching congregational work began in 1968 with her election to the Chapter of Renewal, followed by her election as General Councillor. In one discussion about changing the traditional habit, S. John, herself an excellent seamstress, noted tersely that “The habit may be modest but it certainly isn’t simple.” That kind of direct comment led to her re-election as Councillor in 1974, and to her election as General Superior in 1978. In an interview with The Tablet, she wryly commented, “I think they know what they’re getting.” In that ongoing period of revolutionary change in religious life, S. John Raymond became a stabilizing force, ensuring that the best would be retained, and that the Sisters of St. Joseph would be open to the needs of the dear neighbor in new ways. She had remarkable insight into the special gifts of each sister, and she was very open to supporting what others saw as new needs. And so her strong support for Providence House, her trip to the Dominican Republic, her support for the work in Brazil, and her ongoing support for Puerto Rico. Soon after her election, she signed out one morning: "5 a.m. – to Puerto Rico; back tonight.”
S. John Raymond (standing, third from left) with clergy affiliated with the College. Standing: Sister Francis Teresa, Sister Raymonda, SJR, Sister St. Angela (Regional Superior, and former Librarian at SJC,), Sister Joseph Damien (Professor of History) and Sister Virginia Thérèse (Congregational Councillor, former Professor of Chemistry; later, Vice President and Dean, SJC Long Island); seated: Sister George Aquin (president of SJC, 1969-1997), Sister Joan de Lourdes (General Superior of Sisters of St. Joseph; former Professor of History and Dean of Students) and Bishop Francis Mugavero (Bishop of Brooklyn).
In 1986, at the conclusion of S. John’s second term as General Superior, St. Joseph’s College welcomed her back as Assistant to the President for the Suffolk Campus, where her strong support strengthened the rapid growth there. She became beloved of faculty and administrators for her common sense, her practical help, her understanding, and on occasion, for the look.
Her congregational work continued after she left office, with membership on a number of Boards of Trustees, including Maria Regina Residence, to which she was always devoted, and to St. Joseph’s College, from 1973 until 2014.
As we look back over the arc of her life and our individual relationships with her, the encouragement she gave, the confidences she kept, we see a woman of deep prayer, integrity, insight, discernment, decisiveness. She was stalwart and resolute, and withal, a community woman, compassionate and loving. And her love always took the form of service for the dear neighbor without distinction.
One final memory.
On the morning of January 6, two close Sister friends, both nurses, were with her to accompany her into Brooklyn for a doctor’s appointment. She was in her chair, fully dressed, with her shoes on, ready to set forth, when it became apparent that suddenly she was too weak to make the trip; and within the hour, she breathed gently and was gone. On the traditional Feast of the Epiphany, like the Wise Men of old, she had reached the end of the journey. The star of her faith and her vocation had brought her face to face with the living God, whom she had loved and served for ninety-one years. Let us give thanks for the gift of her life among us, and just as we began this liturgy, let us “Sing with all the saints in glory” – alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
S. Virginia Barry, C.S.J.
(Visited by S. John Raymond while she served in Recife, Brazil [as told by S. Mary Ann Cashin])
As General Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister John Raymond visited Sister Virginia Barry in Recife, Brazil. When Sister John arrived, she learned that the house in which she would be staying had no electricity or running water. Sister Virginia has never forgotten how Sister John responded to these spartan conditions. She said, "Just tell me how I do this and I'll be fine."
Sister John climbed the mud hills, visited the people in their clay homes, walked the streets and experienced the situation of the people there. Sister Virginia remembers that Sister John was so taken with the level of poverty the families were experiencing and touched by their plight. She had a strong belief in the mission there and was delighted that the Sisters of St. Joseph were making a response through Sister Virginia Barry.
One of Sister Virginia's strongest memories of Sister John's visit was a meeting with the Archbishop of Recife, Dom Helder Camara. Dom Helder was known for his advocacy for the poor, championing human rights and social change. Knowing the dedication of this holy and courageous man, Sister John knelt for his blessing. Seeing the openness and love of this woman, Archbishop Camara knelt before her as well.
Sister John Raymond McGann, P.h.D., Secondary Education Director of Counseling and Testing, with a student teacher.
S. Pat Dittmer ’72, C.S.J.
Instructor, SJC Brooklyn Dillon Center
I knew Sister John Raymond for 46 years! When I first entered the convent, Sister John was in leadership and interviewed the new group several times determining our strengths and abilities. When I mentioned to Sister that I wanted to teach young children, she told me about the Dillon Child Study Center, which I had never heard of. After several interviews I remember her words to me, “Sister, I believe that The Dillon Child Study Center is the place for you and I want you to pursue your working there.”
I have been working in The Dillon Child Study Center for 44 years and I shall always be grateful to Sister John for her leadership, support and kindness.
Sister John Raymond had the gift of insight and there are many stories of her support and encouragement to sisters, faculty, staff and students.
Noted educator and former US Assistant Secretary of Education
I first met S. John Raymond about 30 years ago. I was curious about her because my dear friend Mary Butz described her to me as a living saint. As a Jew, I don't know what a saint looks like, but the woman I came to know was serious, thoughtful, not given to frivolous comments, and universally respected and admired.
I frequently sat in on lunches with several of her former students, where she was not present, but the conversation turned to her and her students loved to tell stories about her and what an impact she had on their lives. She always wore her habit, a fact that I admired, because it signaled that she was committed to her life as a religious.
The years changed but they didn't change her. Although we met many times, the most memorable meeting was when I hitched a ride with S. Elizabeth Hill to Long Island. She told me that S. John Raymond would be joining us. I said that was fine but I had to bring my dog Lady with me. S. Elizabeth said not to worry because S. John Raymond loves dogs, not cats. So, we traveled to the campus in Brentwood, S. Elizabeth driving, another nun in the front seat, S. John Raymond and I in the back seat, with the cocker spaniel Lady sitting between us. I kept thinking to myself, I am in the back seat with my dog and a living saint. S. John Raymond told me that Lady was indeed a Lady, and we laughed about that ride for years afterwards.
S. Margaret Buckley ’55, C.S.J.
Professor, Education Department Associate Chair
Sister John Raymond was a talented and gifted teacher of teachers. When I came to the College she mentored me very generously, having me observe her General Methods class for my first semester before taking it over the next year. I knew that I had very big shoes to fill, but she was always supportive. Her influence on the future teachers was profound. They have gone on to be outstanding teachers, department chairpersons, principals, and superintendents, as well as using their education in other professions.
When they return for reunions, they always speak of how she challenged them to be their best and supported them along the way. For many years Sister John was also the Director of Counseling, and in that role, she saw every student and offered insightful and supportive guidance.
When she returned to the College after serving as General Superior, she focused her attention on the Department at the Long island campus. For many years, she drove to the campus from Brooklyn at least three days a week and never complained about the LIE — a heroic attitude. Under her guidance the Department in LI grew significantly, and she took advantage of the growth to develop new and creative approaches and to add faculty. Sister John leaves a legacy to many at the College, but for those of us in Secondary Education, her life will continue to inspire us in our vocation to prepare teachers.
S. Helen Kearney, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Child Study Department
My remembrance of Sister John Raymond is that she was a woman of incredible faithfulness accompanied by a deep sense of God's wisdom that she reflected in all of her endeavors. She had a great deal of energy but I feel her greatest gift was to be present and attentive to the person or situation that was in front of her. Anyone's concern, question or difficulty received her thoughtful response with great honesty and integrity. That response always reflected important values and would relate to future implications. On a very simple note, Sister John Raymond had a real sense of hospitality, welcoming others and yes she often did that with her famous brownies and cookies. I believe her legacy of deep faith, dedicated service and integrity is a gift to all who have known her.
A Powerful Response On Social Media
Across Facebook, word of S. John Raymond's passing reached hundreds, and resulted in an outpouring of comments from former students, friends and SJC community members. If you'd like to post your own memory of S. John Raymond, visit our SJCNY Facebook page or our Alumni SJCNY page.
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