Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Marlborough celebrate 150th anniversary

MARLBOROUGH -- On a second-floor balcony of the Charter Oaks Country Club in Hudson, more than a dozen sisters of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd posed for a photo. The balcony overlooked green fields and pink flowering trees, and the sisters, white haired, joked and laughed as they huddled together for the photo, smiling in the bright sun for cameras busily snapping the moment. They were in high spirits -- 150 years before, in 1867, their order first arrived in the Boston area. On the balcony, April 28, they celebrated that anniversary, pausing for just a minute to capture the culmination of years and years of faith and ministry.

Hundreds of people, loved ones and friends, attended a Mass at St. Matthias Church in Marlborough followed by a dinner event at Charter Oaks Country Club in Hudson to celebrate the anniversary of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Many came from Massachusetts, but others traveled much further for the anniversary festivities.

Taking place only two months after the announced closure of their Good Shepherd Center in Marlborough, the sisters went "all out" for the celebration, as an organizer put it, and attendees had dinner and appetizers at the country club and gave cards and well wishes to the sisters.

Being able to celebrate the anniversary is "wonderful," said Sister Elish McPartland, RGS, at the dinner event.

"I know a lot of wonderful sisters who have gone before us, have passed on, and we want to honor them and celebrate being here 150 years," continued Sister Elish, who works as a trained holistic therapist at Good Shepherd's Maria Droste Counseling Services in Quincy.

The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, founded by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier in France, first came to the U.S. about 175 years ago, after five sisters traveled to Kentucky to begin the U.S. foundation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1842.

The sisters came to Boston in 1867 at the request of Archbishop Williams "to address needs of girls and women who were having difficulty in their lives," explained Sister Jane Amirault, RGS to The Pilot April 27.

The sisters operated out of the city of Boston until 1964, when a societal shift in child care practices prompted them to secure a 64-acre property in Marlborough and build the Madonna Hall for Girls.

More changes in care and educational practices resulted in the school's closure in 1985. The property was purchased by the non-profit Cummings Foundation in 1992, becoming the site of the New Horizons retirement community. The sisters continued to live on the property in the adjacent Good Shepherd Center until, citing a declining number of sisters and increased health needs, the sisters closed it earlier this year.

The sisters' long history and caring ministry were remembered during the anniversary celebrations.

"For years and centuries, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the religious of the Good Shepherd, have demonstrated that to us, that God, the good and loving shepherd who leads us, will sustain us, will help us," said Father Oscar Pratt, homilist for the anniversary Mass and administrator of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Dorchester.

Father Pratt was one of the concelebrants of the Mass, of which St. Matthias pastor Father Francis O'Brien was the principal celebrant.

Marie Roach, a longtime friend of one of the sisters, was one of the about 200 people who attended the Mass and dinner event. Speaking to The Pilot, Roach said she has known Sister Mary Farren, RGS, since the second grade.

The two of them are close, Roach said, but while she knew Sister Mary ran Nazareth Residence in Roxbury for years, providing care for women and children, she had "no idea" how many good works the Sisters of the Good Shepherd actually do until fairly recently.

"They are the most amazing order," Roach said. "Kind, charitable -- they work with the people that nobody else wants to work with a lot of times. It's the most amazing thing."

"They are a wonderful order. People just don't recognize what they have done. They're very important," she said.