Fruits of the spirit: Nun was last of 13 siblings, five religious sisters

Sister Alice Gagne who passed away this month at the age of 92, was the last surviving child of a family of 13 children, five of whom became Sisters of Charity of Montreal. Pilot photo/courtesy Sisters of Charity of Montreal

LEXINGTON -- The passing of Sister Alice Gagne on July 12 was not only a loss for her family, friends and fellow religious sisters, but marked the closing of a chapter in a family of strong Catholic faith that gave rise to five religious vocations.

Sister Alice of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, commonly known as the Grey Nuns, was one of five biological sisters to join the religious order started by St. Marguerite d'Youville in 1737. She was also the last in her family of 13 to pass on.

Alice Gagne was born on Nov. 2, 1918 in St. Patrice, Quebec to Francois and Adeline Gagne. The family later moved to Woonsocket, R.I. for a better environment for daughter Germaine, who had severe asthma, and also for work opportunities for Francois.

Jeannette Deragon, the eldest grandchild of Francois and Adeline and only two years younger than her youngest aunt, Jackie, now deceased, grew up just a street away from her grandparent's apartment, where she would frequently visit and sleep over.

Speaking with The Pilot, Jeannette Deragon, 83, gave a glimpse into the life of the large multigenerational, French Canadian immigrant family and their daily routine.

Before most of the family would arise in the morning, Francois would wish his wife "good morning" and ask her how many potatoes she would need for the day. Sitting in a small armless rocking chair in the kitchen, he would peel the potatoes, while Adeline would prepare breakfast. Later when he was working at a dye and textile factory, Adeline tended to the many domestic duties. An accomplished seamstress, she would have her daughters point out dresses they liked in a catalog and Adeline would make replicas.

After Mass on Sundays, a popular family activity would be to caravan over to what was then called Lido Beach in Narragansett. They would park up to six cars in two rows, set up a tent and radios, and dance to Polka music. Instead of buying food at the beach, ragout and boiled potatoes, hamburgers, hot-dogs, and spaghetti and meatballs would be prepared. Sometimes the attendant working at the beach would even join the party, she said.

Deragon repeatedly described the family as happy, one in which the parents would never argue in front of their children. She also described them as musical and festive, with Francois frequently singing.

The Gagne family's Catholic faith was also an integral part of their lives. After supper each day, the Gagnes would go before a large crucifix in the apartment and pray the rosary.

It is unclear now when the Gagne sisters first encountered the Grey Nuns, who have a long history of ministry in hospitals, schools, and orphanages in New England, but their impact was apparent.

Five of the twelve Gagne daughters would join the order and another, Louise, sought to join but could not continue due to poor health.

Sister Claire was soft-spoken and peaceful; she worked in healthcare with children, and as a sacristan.

Sister Germaine was a talented seamstress and made the sister's habits.

Sister Gilberte served as a driver for the congregation, shuttling sisters between hospitals and residences. Known for her sense of humor, Sister Gilberte also took lessons at a Fannie Farmer cooking school.

Sister Henrietta took courses in pastoral care and was talented particularly in meeting with people one-on-one and with those nearing the end of their lives.

Tragedy met the Gagne sisters in the form of an arsonist's fire that destroyed a house that some Grey Nuns were renting in Lawrence in the early 1970s.

Sisters Gilberte and Henrietta were both badly burned, with Sister Gilberte spending a year in an Ohio burn center enduring multiple plastic surgeries on her face. Both women lost all their personal possessions in the fire, but both continued their ministries after recovering.

"They used to talk about how that affected their life; how all the things that we take for granted, or all the things that we possess have no meaning. And they all disappear in the moment of a fire and you have to begin again," said Sister June Ketterer, an area coordinator for the Grey Nuns.

Sister June knew all five of the Gagne sisters and said they kept in contact with each other while being assigned to different locations by the order.

"You know when people have a good relationship with God they have kind of a peaceful inner-spirit? And they all had that kind of a spirit," said Sister June.

"All five of them were very prayerful -- all different personalities -- but prayerful women, and all women of strength. No matter what happened in their lives, they were able to walk through it. And part of that was because they supported each other."

For her part, Sister Alice entered the community in 1938 after a period of training to be a nurse in Cambridge. Much of her ministry with the Grey Nuns took place in orphanages run by the sisters in Worcester and Nashua, N.H. She took special care of the girls under her charge, treating them as if they were her own.

In 1979, her ministry took a different tack when she was asked to assist with the elderly at a nursing home in Dyersburg, Tenn.

Sister June recalled that Sister Alice was initially hesitant, but agreed to go, and did well.

Yet, she was also able to continue working with children, bringing toys to the children waiting in the lobby of a local office of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program. When she wasn't there with other Grey Nuns, the children would ask for her.

"Well, you know, it's not that much different," said Sister June recalling something Sister Alice once told her. "She said the children run around, the old folks don't run around, but they still need me to sit there and just talk to them."

Sister Alice returned to New England in the mid 1980s and worked at other Grey Nun facilities, including St. Mary's Health System in Lewiston, Maine. Her French-English bi-lingual ability suited her well in escorting the elderly to the destinations in the hospital.

In 2006, she officially retired and moved to Youville Place in Lexington, a former residence for the Grey Nuns converted to an assisted living facility. There she continued to impact the lives of those around her.

Sister Alice died on July 12 at a nursing home in Waltham, admitted only a week earlier, at the age of 92.

At the wake preceding the July 15 funeral Mass, a copy of the constitution of the order, a crucifix, and a red rose were placed on the lower, closed half of the casket, in keeping with Grey Nun tradition. The constitution is to signify the Sisters' way of life, the cross reflects the reality of life's burdens, and the rose represents service performed with love. Sisters and friends then shared memories about Sister Alice.

Nation
Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

World
Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

World
Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

World
Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Nation
Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

World
Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Nation
Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

World
Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

World
What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

World
Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...

Nation
Addicts and their loved ones talk about life with opioid addiction

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- It was a Saturday night, and Billy was eating pizza and watching a sporting event in the basement bedroom of his residence, a ...

Nation
Signers of letter hope Vatican meeting will bring needed steps on crisis

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Signers of an open letter from Catholic women to Pope Francis urging "truth" and "transparency" on the growing sex abuse crisis expressed ...

Local
Community 'overwhelmed and shell-shocked' after gas explosions, says pastor

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

World
Down to earth: Vatican brings together world's meteorite curators

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Rocks, mineral debris and even dust from space are kept in special collections, museums and laboratories all over the ...

World
Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, ...

Nation
'Anything but a picnic' - Cardinal Dolan on the Church's summer of scandal

New York City, N.Y., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Cardinal Timothy Dolan has spoken about how the extended sexual abuse scandals facing the Church have taken a ...

Local
Restoring and reimagining: Transformation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BOSTON -- Considered by many to be the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Catholic church in New England, ...

Local
Archdiocese says Cardinal O'Malley will personally review all abuse letters

BRAINTREE (CAN) -- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced changes to the way it will process and respond to letters addressed to Cardinal Séan P. ...

Local
CM receives $2.5M grant from Yawkey Foundations

West Roxbury -- Catholic Memorial, a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 to 12, announced Sept. 5 that they have received a $2.5 million grant ...

Local
Father Christian Ohazulume removed from ministry

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese announced on Sept. 11 that it had removed a priest from ministry after receiving an allegation that he sexually abused a ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections ...

Nation
Kavanaugh's birth control comments spur controversy -- What did he say?

Washington D.C. (CNA) -- Opponents of Judge Brett Kavanaugh have suggested that a reference to birth control pills as "abortion-inducing drugs" during ...

Nation
Missouri to enforce abortion regulations in wake of appeals court ruling

Jefferson City, Mo. (CNA) -- Missouri's health department announced Monday that it will immediately being enforcing state laws regulating abortion clinics ...

Nation
Book tells about behind-the-scenes search for St. Peter's bones

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Two Houston men shared a journey through centuries of history and a decades-long archaeological dig under the Vatican to unveil a story ...

World
Update way priests are chosen, accompanied, pope tells new bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The best way to help the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told new bishops, is not by pointing fingers and creating scapegoats, but ...

World
Vatican confirms ongoing Sistine Chapel Choir finance inquiry

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican confirmed an ongoing investigation into financial irregularities involving the directors of the Sistine Chapel Choir. ...

World
After meeting pope, cardinal says he's hopeful about addressing crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston struck a determinedly hopeful tone after his long-awaited meeting with Pope Francis ...

Nation
DA clears Indiana bishop of misconduct, says claim has harmed prelate

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend welcomed findings by a Pennsylvania district attorney that cleared Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades ...

World
Cardinal DiNardo calls meeting with pope lengthy, fruitful

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has called a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and leaders from the Church in United ...

Nation
What do Church abuse policies mean by 'vulnerable adult?'

Denver, Colo., Sep 12, 2018 CNA.- A Vatican summit this February will gather the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world. While ...

World
'Elitist, clericalist' church allows abuse to thrive, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sexual and physical abuse by priests and religious and the scandal of its cover-up by church authorities thrive in countries where ...

World
Cardinal Wuerl to ask pope to accept his resignation

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2018 CNA.- An archdiocesan spokesman has confirmed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl will soon ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation ...

Nation
Pope accepts resignation of West Virginia bishop as inquiry into abuse claims launched

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Pope Francis Thursday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the pastoral government ...

World
Leaked German report shows 3,700 cases of abuse of minors in 68 years

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A 350-page document leaked to German media and published Sept. 12 documents nearly 3,700 cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors by ...

World
Pope accepts resignation of Brazilian bishop arrested for embezzlement

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a Brazilian bishop who was arrested and charged with embezzling thousands of dollars in ...

World
Love breaks chains of slavery to sin, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Only true love for God and neighbor can destroy the chains of greed, lust, anger and envy that enslave humankind, Pope Francis said. ...

Nation
Washington cardinal to meet with pope to discuss resignation

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington has told the priests of the archdiocese that he will meet soon with Pope Francis to request ...

World
Pope to convene world meeting on abuse prevention with bishops' leaders

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis is calling the presidents of every Catholic bishops' conference in the world to Rome Feb. 21-24 to discuss the prevention ...

Nation
Supreme Court petition next step in effort to stop natural gas pipeline

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Pennsylvania religious congregation planned to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether their religious freedom rights ...