Written on: March 20, 2017
Sister Frances C. Whitman, GNSH, formerly Sister Frances Marian, age 90, died March 18, 2017 in the 53rd year of her religious life at Holy Redeemer Lafayette.
The following words of remembrance were delivered by Sister Karen Marie Voltz at the Funeral Liturgy.
We have also been given a “family” perspective from Frances’ niece Marian. Click here to read
Remembrances of Sister Frances Whitman GNSH, March 25, 2017
I am humbled, yet privileged, to share remembrances of Sister Frances Whitman with you this morning at her Funeral Mass.
I’ve woven the thoughts of many, who have shared their thoughts with me: Grey Nuns, Grey Nun Associates, Grey Nun Employees, former Grey Nuns, great nieces, and friends—– along with my own treasured memories.
Frances Catherine Whitman, daughter of Hollis and Rose Whitman, was born February 1, 1927 in Atlanta, Georgia .
She was the baby sister born 19 years after her twin bother and sister, Hollis [known as “Red”] and Rosalie. Her niece, Marian, was only ten years younger than Frances, and was more like a sister to her than a niece.
Her great-nephews Christopher and Eden, and great-nieces Pier and Hollis loved their Aunt Frances and kept her updated on her 7 great–great nieces and nephews. Pier and Hollis, often drove from Washington, DC to visit with her. They wrote,
“Aunt Frances was calm and steady in her faith and personality, with an amazing laugh, an avid reader, and always up on current events.” After hearing of the death of their aunt, they shared that they “heard the lyrics of a song on the radio: When Someone Great Is Gone, and thought, “How true!”
Frances was educated in the tradition of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart at Christ the King Grade School and Christ the King High School, graduating in 1945 with one of her classmates, “soon to be” Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, Mary Sue Thomas.
She received a scholarship to college, attended one year, then because of the expenses, attended a business school and entered the work-world.
In 1962 Frances had just begun a job, with the Federal Reserve and was unable to take a month off from work to accompany friends and acquaintances to see the beautiful art of Europe. On June 2, the plane returning from Europe crashed in France and 129 from Atlanta, of the 132 aboard, were killed.
Frances was deeply affected by this tragedy and pondered the value of life. This event led her to enter the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart two years later in 1964, after having received a dispensation because of her age – 37 years old.
A Grey Nun in the “band” with Sister, related “most of the 18 girls who entered were about 17 or 18 years old. So they were constantly coming to Sister Frances, who was 20 years older than they were, seeking advice. Sister Frances always responded “I don’t know! I came here the same time you did!”
In 1967, Sister Frances Marian professed vows as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, and was missioned back to Atlanta to teach at Immaculate Heart of Mary Grade School. While a bit unusual to return to one’s home city immediately after profession,
Mother Jane Frances told her, “It was necessary! It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.” Today we believe it was Divine Providence!
A year later in 1968, Sister Ann McKee and I were missioned to Immaculate Heart of Mary, where we lived with Sister Frances for 9 years, and began a friendship with her that lasted for 49 years.
After obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree from D’Youville College, and teaching 3 years, Sister was sent to Georgia State for a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education Administration. She then returned to Immaculate Heart of Mary as its principal for 6 years.
Feeling that she was not “cut out” to be a principal, Sister then attended Summer Institutes on Canon Law in Washington, DC. Subsequently she was hired by the Archdiocese of Atlanta to work in the Marriage Tribunal, where she served those seeking annulments for 28 years, until she retired in 2005. Sister Frances Whitman served God’s people in Atlanta, Georgia for a total of 39 years!
For about 25 of these years Frances lived in community with Sister Pierrette Remillard and another deep friendship was forged. It continued when they moved in 2005 to the Motherhouse in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
When I first tried to find words to describe Sister Frances, before noting the biographical details, I immediately thought of SPIRITUAL, SOUTHERN, and SERVICE!
The SPIRITUALITY that many of you associate Frances with, began while she was living in Atlanta. A workshop was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish on Centering Prayer. Sister Frances and Sister Pierrette attended it, and began going to a weekly prayer group there.
When they moved to the Motherhouse, one of the things Sister Frances did was to organize a group of women; sisters, associates, and neighbors–who would gather weekly for Centering Prayer. Almost everyone who shared memories of Sister mentioned her influence, and dedication to this prayer group.
One Grey Nun Associate in the prayer group wrote: “Sister Frances would always speak in a soft voice to begin the Lectio Divina saying, “Let’s settle down now. Shall we begin?” Instantly a room of talkative women would fall silent.”
One of the Motherhouse staff, who joined a book-discussion group with her wrote: “ …I discovered that Sister Frances was an avid reader, and I was impressed by her open-mindedness and honesty…She always tried to see the good in people—people in fiction and people in real life.”
Another Grey Nun wrote, “I met Sister Frances when I entered. She was a year ahead of me and her wisdom and kindness was so welcome… I really attribute my success in the South to her wisdom. When I stopped by to see Sister a week ago Sunday, she was not good, but happy to see me, As I left she said “Y’all be good and thanks for coming!” “
Someone who once lived with her wrote, “Sister Frances was deeply spiritual and prayerful, …she was gifted with listening without judgment… was kind to everyone…she made those who knew her feel visible and valued…”
One Grey Nun wrote, “Sister manifested a sincere joy rooted in love for her God, a love for and loyalty to the Grey Nuns, and an awesome depth of contemplative prayer.”
Qualities many said that Sister Frances possessed were: “…authentic goodness, wisdom, kindness, refinement, acceptance, and compassion.”
The second quality I thought of, and almost everyone mentioned it was SOUTHERN. One Sister wrote, “What a gracious lady and Southern Belle!
She was my first encounter with a true Southern lady!”
Another wrote, “Sister Frances took everything in her sweet Southern stride, with a quiet knowing smile.” One of the prayer group said how she enjoyed Sister’s “southern drawl, kind nature, and infectious laughter.”
Someone noted “Sister Frances had such a southern charm about her…always polite, grateful, and gentle.”
One day this past January, Sister Frances raved to me on the phone about the wonderful breakfast she had. I wondered: waffles? pancakes? crepes? Oh, no! The answer was “GRITS!”
For my part, I never knew what Sister Frances wanted when I was asked for a PIN–a pin to tack something up with, or a “pin” to write with—both were pronounced the same! Sister Frances never wrote with a PEN!
The third word Sister Frances demonstrated was SERVICE. For years when living in Atlanta, Sister spent every Sunday with her sister Rosalie, unmarried, living alone, and almost twenty years older than Sister.
This continued until Rosalie died. Then it was Sister’s turn to give loving service to her widowed brother until his death.
While at the Motherhouse, I think of many services Sister rendered.
As one who rendered service, she also recognized the service of others. Someone shared that Sister would walk down the Motherhouse corridor of offices, and pop her head in saying, “Thank you for all you do for us!”
Finally, Sister Frances was a paradox! When she went to the shore for a week each summer, she spent hours reading books I called, “deep dark, and heavy.” One week before she died, she had Sister Pierrette read aloud to her sections of Richard Rohr’s book: Divine Dance.
On a lighter side, she loved the daily and Sunday comics – her favorite was MUTTS a simple one with a dog and cat—but Frances used to laugh at it until she cried. At Lafayette, she framed and hung a picture in her apartment of—6 monkeys! She said they made her laugh! (Would you expect monkeys in a contemplative’s abode?)
Although quiet and prayerful—Sister truly enjoyed conversations, a good movie, going to someone’s apartment for dinner, going to Out Back for ribs, or to Spadaforas at Ocean City for shrimp
A Grey Nun said of Sister Frances, she was “…a gift from God, and we were privileged to have had her with us – as a true daughter of St. Marguerite!”
One Sister wrote that she used to ask Sister Frances, “Why do you do all that you do?” The response was always, “It’s a gift, and I have to share it!”
Now the gift given—has been accepted. Sister Frances is with Him,
Whom she loved –THE CENTER OF HER LIFE!
A native of Atlanta, GA, she entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in 1964 after employment as an Executive Secretary for Atlanta architectural firms for more than a decade.
For 39 years as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart her ministry was in Atlanta. Initially she taught at Immaculate Heart of Mary School (1967-70) and later, after receiving an MA in Elementary Education Administration from Georgia State, she served as principal (1971-76) at IHM. For the next 28 years, (1976 to 2004) she was engaged in administrative work in the Court (Tribunal) System of the Catholic Church at the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Retiring in 2004, she remained in Atlanta until 2006 when she moved to the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart Motherhouse, Yardley, PA. In retirement at the Motherhouse and D’Youville Manor, she led a centering prayer group for sisters and laity that met on a regular basis.
In addition to her religious congregation, she is survived by nieces and nephews. She is predeceased by her parents, Hollis H and Rosa Fink Whitman, a sister, Rosalie and brother, Hollis Whitman.
The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be held on Saturday March 25, beginning with a viewing at 9:30 am, and memory sharing at 9:45 am, with Mass celebrated at 10:30 am the Holy Redeemer Sisters Chapel, 521 Moredon Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006. Interment will be in Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem, PA.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Sister Frances’ memory may be made online to the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, or by mail at the following address:14500 Bustleton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19116-1188.
Funeral arrangements by Beck-Givnish Funeral Homes, Inc.