January 16, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible saints: Mother Angeline McCrory

John F. Fink(Thirty-second in a series of columns)

Brigid McCrory was born in 1893 to a Catholic family in Northern Ireland. The family emigrated from there to Scotland when she was 8. When she was 19, Brigid entered the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose mission then, as now, was to care for the indigent elderly. She received the name Sister Angeline Teresa of St. Agathe.

After professing her vows, Sister Angeline was assigned to a home in Brooklyn, arriving in the United States in 1915. After nine years of caring for the sick and begging for food for the sisters and their patients, she was named superior of Our Lady’s Home in the Bronx. Now Mother Angeline, she was responsible for 18 sisters and 200 elderly residents.

The rule for the Little Sisters was that their homes must accept only the indigent poor, but Mother Angeline interpreted “poor” broadly, welcoming elderly people who had some money but no companionship or joy. When the mother general visited from France in 1927, she ordered Mother Angeline to adhere strictly to the rule.

Mother Angeline prayed about the situation and held discussions with others, trying to discern what she should do. Two years later, and after two official canonical visitations, she decided that she was called to leave the Little Sisters and found a new community. Along with six other sisters, she departed from the community.

New York’s Cardinal Patrick Hayes gave the sisters the old rectory of St. Elizabeth Parish, and the sisters moved there on

Sept. 3, 1929. They considered that date as the community’s foundation day.

Two years later, Mother Angeline asked Father Lawrence Flanagan, provincial of the Carmelite Province of New York, if the sisters could affiliate with the Carmelite Order. He approved, as did Cardinal Hayes, and on July 16, 1931, the Church recognized the foundation of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The new order’s constitution received papal approval in 1957.

The Carmelites moved into St. Patrick’s Home in the Bronx. As both the number of sisters and the elderly continued to grow, the sisters expanded St. Patrick’s Home seven times during the next four decades. In 1947, they moved their motherhouse to Avila-on-the-Hudson in Germantown, N.Y., 100 miles north of New York City.

Mother Angeline served as superior general of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm for almost half a century, from 1929 to 1978. During that time, the order grew to more than 300 sisters serving in 50 sites in 30 dioceses in the United States, plus one each in Ireland and Scotland.

Mother Angeline wrote, “We all know that labor done for God is high and holy, but it must not replace habitually the spiritual exercises of the Rule. We must, as Carmelites, lead a contemplative and active life, giving the required time to prayer which is more important than our work.”

She died on her 91st birthday in 1984, after 14 years as a Little Sister of the Poor and 55 years as a Carmelite. †

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