Sister Alice of the Sacred Heart (McCollester)

Written on: July 30, 2010

Heart of Jesus, rich in mercy and love. This invocation, taken from the litany to the sacred heart is reflective of the life and legacy of our dear sister, Alice McCollester.

Good things often come in small packages… Alice was a woman small in stature but huge in love. It was apparent from being acquainted with her that she lived in the heart of God. Alice seemed to know what living was all about—not about her but about making God present.

She seemed to understand that she, like Jesus, should become the visible heart of God and that she was called to be a friend and advocate, especially for the poor and the voiceless. Alice realized the importance of doing little things with great love. She had found her place in the heart of God and she never lost her compass.

Born in northern New York State, Alice spent her childhood in this rural community learning to be part of a big happy family. These roots were important ones for her not only because of the surroundings in which she grew, but also because of the affection she developed for her family, an affection which she treasured all of her life. Her early years were lived in an atmosphere where her faith was nurtured and she learned to seek a relationship with God and others rather than possessions and prestige.
Alice must have valued education very highly because as a young girl, she not only completed high school but left home to attend college in the New York City area at the College of New Rochelle. This happened just after women received the right to vote in the United States. It was at that time she first showed her pioneering spirit—that desire to experience new and wonderful people and places and ideas. At New Rochelle she met and was influenced by the Ursuline sisters. After graduation, Sister Alice taught high school for several years and then entered the Grey Nuns.
Alice had beautiful stories about teaching 3rd graders at Holy Angels School. Her recollection of those days was that she loved the children but never taught them much because she couldn’t get them all to sit in their seats and pay attention to her. She said that she played with them and enjoyed them.

But she knew that 3rd grade was not her calling and it was in 1942 that Alice found her niche and that D’Youville found its special grey nun.
Sister Alice served at D’Youville continuously for 54 years, a record that has never been equaled at the college. During her time at D’Youville, she was an instructor in business and then Registrar for more than 30 years. When she believed it was time to face retirement, she asked for part-time work and began to learn all the complicated procedures in the Financial Aid Office where she worked for an additional 12 years.
In 1989, Alice felt that her time as a financial aid counselor should come to an end because the regulations were becoming very complex. It was then that she became an assistant in the Business Office and served in that capacity for another 7 years.

Eventually in 1996, Alice retired from full- and part-time employment but remained active and beloved at D’Youville and volunteered in many capacities. Her presence was a constant joy for faculty, staff and students all. She always brought a smile to peoples’ faces and her pleasant manner and concerned questions made everyone know that someone cared.
Alice, from her earliest days at D’Youville, became known for her kindness, her ability to know the name of every student and to remember each one long after graduation. She spent hours listening, guiding and helping.
Alice moved around campus quietly but had a profound impact on all who knew her—and almost everyone did! Her presence always brought with it a loving heart and a smile that would quickly turn to laughter.
One of Sister Alice’s best qualities was her ability to laugh at herself and not take herself too seriously. Over and over she told us stories of growing up in Chateauguay where her mother referred to her as “unfortunate Frances,” –she was a bit clumsy and often would do things the hard way. She told stories about her cooking exploits that turned out to be disasters, about the time she set off the fire alarm making toast and about learning to remove wax from linen cloths by using a brown paper bag and an iron. However, she reminded us that the one who told her failed to say that it had to be a paper bag and when she used a plastic one, of course, a melted mess occurred.
She was an intrepid walker and would take walks faithfully, no matter what the weather was like. There was the time when she slipped and fell into a snowbank which was so deep that she couldn’t get out of it until someone passed by and gave her a hand. Alice laughed so hard that they both had difficulty lifting her out.

Alice not only had an impact on the college through her work and presence there, but she had a strong influence on the lives of the Grey Nuns who were fortunate enough to live with her. As a member of our community, she always took it upon herself to participate wholeheartedly and often took on the chores that no one else wanted. She would assume them quietly and could always be depended upon to complete them. Her attitude as a member of the group was one of service and she participated with all the enthusiasm that she could muster. Never did we go out anywhere—a lecture, a movie, a wake, a conference—when she would not be the first one ready. A memory I shall always cherish is the evenings I spent with her at the waterfront in Buffalo. We would go down to the lake by car and Alice would sit on a bench at the water while I walked through the park. On the way home in the car, we discussed what our thoughts had been as we had gazed at the water and the beautiful sunset.

Alice’s pioneering spirit and political interest led her to have a keen interest in Grey Nun Chapters. Often, she was the first to accept the changes that resulted from them and to try the new ideas that emerged.
Alice shamed many of us because she was never too busy or too tired to write to her legislator, dress up for Halloween, cheer for the Buffalo Bills or for Notre Dame on Saturday, prepare morning prayer, cook dinner, be Lag Coordinator or do whatever was asked.

Alice’s love was never more apparent than when she spoke of her family. She loved them, each of them, treasured their visits and letters, enjoyed her trips with them, especially the trip to Ireland, and her Rochester visits and was delighted when her sweet niece, Anne McCormick, chose to study at D’Youville. We also enjoyed the family’s visits to D’Youville and the laughter that always accompanied them.

Although it took great courage, Alice lived what she believed and did so boldly. There was no question on the mind of anyone who knew her that she stood for the poor and disenfranchised and that she would defend them courageously with all of the zeal and passion that she had. In her own simple way, Alice cared for people without letting anyone know. Often the person was unaware that it was Alice who was instrumental in providing relief or comfort. For years she ministered to shut-ins in Holy Angels Parish and to residents of Mary Agnes Manor. Countless people benefitted from her kindness.

In 2008, when D’Youville celebrated its centennial year, it bestowed an honor on Sister Alice dedicating the Registrar’s Office to her in recognition of her service. The tribute to her stated: “Although you are small in stature, the size of your heart has left a deep and lasting imprint on the college and all those who worked and study here. The warmth of your engaging smile and the kind and gentle way in which you approach each person and situation have left a legacy of unconditional love and service passed on, not by words, but by the example of service which you expressed so eloquently.”

And that is who sister Alice was—someone who was kind and merciful, who in her own simple and constant way cared for the poor and the needy and let them know that in her they had a friend. She was the little person who moved about making an enormous impact on the world around her.

Like Marguerite d’Youville whom she admired, she too, a child of Chateauguay, a student of the Ursulines, a lover of the poor, a Grey Nun learned well and lived the message which Jesus made so clear—love God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole body, your whole soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

True to her oblation of herself in service to others, Sister Alice has donated her last and perhaps most precious gift—her body—to benefit others.
Like her stature, her epitaph is short, she loved much and she never refused to serve.

Alice, our friend, you went about doing good, showing mercy and bestowing love. May you now rest happily in the Heart of God of which you were the visible image during your life with us on earth.
Be at peace, little Alice, at home at last in the tender heart of God!

Remembrance delivered by Sister Denise Roche, gnsh

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