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Obituary: Sister Anna Mary Kelly, CSJ, former president of Boston’s Sisters of St. Joseph

bySister Brenda Forry, CSJ
5/1/2009

Sister Anna Mary Kelly, CSJ Courtesy photo

“Our life of prayer is a dynamic relationship with God, an ever increasing intimacy with the God who is the source and center of our lives. Fidelity to prayer is our response, individually and corporately, to this personal and loving God.” These words, taken from the Constitution of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, were chosen by Sister Anna Mary to be read during her wake service. They speak of the woman she was and the importance of prayer as the center of her life.

Anna Mary Kelly was born in Jamaica Plain on Oct. 1, 1911, the youngest of three children of Thomas and Delia (Lennon) Kelly. Anna Mary was extremely close to her older brother Thomas and her sister Mary all through her life. She attended Girls’ Latin School and Boston Teachers’ College for two years. She entered St. Joseph Novitiate on Sept. 8, 1930. When she received the habit of the Sisters of St. Joseph on March 19, 1931, she also received a new name, Sister Mary Tarcisius. Sister’s teaching experience began on the secondary and college level. From 1933-1943 she taught the classics in our diocesan high schools, among them Mount St. Joseph Academy and St. Columbkille High School, both in Brighton, and Cathedral High School in Boston. In 1943 she began a long and wonderful relationship with Regis College in Weston where Sister Anna Mary was a professor.

She left Regis in 1958 to become Dean and Assistant Mistress of Novices at the College of St. Joseph in Framingham. Sister Anna Mary also began the Scholasticate where the novices continued their studies, graduated from Regis College, and then began their teaching careers. In 1970 she returned to Regis and became the Director of the Office of Continuing Education. During this time she established the Regis College Spanish Institute.

In 1978 Anna Mary was elected to the Leadership of the Congregation. During this time, she served as General Councilor, Vice President, and President of the Congregation. Leadership has been described as “the capacity to influence others for the better.” Throughout her term as President, Sister Anna Mary did lead us for the better. Our present Constitution was written and approved during these years and was approved in 1989.

Shortly after her election to leadership she invited a group of sisters to envision a new form of communication as the principal source of communication for the Congregation. It was her vision for a newspaper that would express the life and spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph that gave birth to Soundings, a newsletter that is now in its 31st year of publication.

When she left office she ministered for many years as director and grant writer for the development office of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In recent years Sister Anna Mary served as a resource person for the history and spirit of the Congregation. At the Congregation Chapter in 2005 she spoke about what she called “A Sacred Piece of Our Rich History.” In 2006 she created a heritage display at Fontbonne Convent, Milton. Of this display she wrote, “In 1958 I dreamed of setting up a heritage room in the novitiate. Now, 50 years later, the dream has become a reality...Our heritage room is a work in progress.” She invited all to “revisit, not just documents of the past and present, but the spirit of our early sisters as well as the great saints who influenced our spirituality.” Her dream for this heritage display is that all who view it “can experience our ‘Hearts on Fire!’”

Sister Anna Mary was a gentle, kind yet strong woman. She had a welcoming disposition toward life -- all of life, God, others, herself and all of creation. She was always interested in what was happening in the Congregation. She loved her laptop. She spent time looking up information, authoring family histories, creating family heritage calendars, writing to friends, and keeping up with community news. When Sister Anna Mary was dean in Framingham, many young women were influenced by this valiant woman and are filled with gratitude today. We are very grateful for the gift of Sister Anna Mary Kelly in our lives. We are better people for having known her.

Father Charles B. Connolly, SJ was the principal celebrant and the homilist of Sister Anna Mary’s funeral Mass at Fontbonne Chapel, Milton on April 22. Among the priests concelebrating with him were Msgr. Dennis Sheehan, Our Lady Help of Christians, Newton; Father Daniel Sheehan, St. Brigid, South Boston, and Father Anthony Daniele, Fontbonne Convent Chaplain.

Bishop Robert Hennessey represented the archdiocese and before celebrating the Rite of Final Commendation he spoke to the packed chapel in gratitude for Sister Anna Mary’s life and ministry to and for the archdiocese. Sister Anna Mary was buried in Milton Cemetery, Milton.

Sister Brenda Forry, CSJ is a member of the Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Additional material for this obituary notice was provided by the staff of The Pilot.