Written on: March 4, 2014
Reflection was delivered by Sister Jean Liston, GNSH at the Funeral Liturgy on March 8, 2014
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reminds the disciples, “Let the children come to Me, for the reign of God belongs to such as these.” With worldly eyes, the disciples saw the children as a nuisance, of virtually no value with regard to what they believed Jesus’ agenda should be. The disciples envisioned the kingdom as a place of temporal fame and boundless fortune. However, Jesus knew the Kingdom was a spiritual reality where union with God was the singular goal.
The children, the babies, brought great joy to Jesus. Their innocence, openness, playfulness, and trust were qualities that endeared them to Him. Jesus saw the young ones as sheer joy without duplicity or pretense.
Like Jesus, Sister Alma Regina loved children. For over 50 years, she shared her many gifts and talents with thousands of students. In Buffalo, Eden, Brooklyn, Jackson Heights, New York, Lowell, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and Yardley, Pennsylvania, she not only taught academic lessons but she also taught that union with God through prayer, service to others, fidelity to one’s vocation, and acceptance of life’s joys and sorrows, are the essential elements of life.
Sister Alma Regina always knew that quality education and support services were essential for children especially for students from low income homes. In the 1960s she taught drama and produced plays at a summer camp in an inner city parish in Buffalo. In 1969, she taught 1st grade at St. Benedict’s, a school in the Bedford/Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
For 35 years Sister Alma taught little ones at her home parish, Blessed Sacrament School, Jackson Heights, New York. As the neighborhood’s population changed, Alma adjusted her teaching style to meet the varied needs of her students, whether those needs were academic, social, physical, or spiritual. Her most recent service in the ministry of education was at St. Joan of Arc School, Grey Nun Academy, and Saint Ignatius School in Yardley, PA.
Following the canonization of Saint Marguerite d’Youville, the Sisters in the New York area, desiring to commemorate this blessed event, decided to focus on the needs of families in the area. In 1990, they opened Marguerite’s Pantry at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in East Elmhurst, New York. The Pantry, which continues to this day, provides food and clothing to those in need. Sister Alma was one of the founding members of Marguerite’s Pantry and served on its Board for 21 years. Always a faithful presence at the pantry, she recruited able volunteers – teachers from Blessed Sacrament and St. Joan’s as well as Grey Nun Associates, to assist in this ministry. At every opening, Sister Alma led the group in prayer to Saint Marguerite then made her way to the door where she greeted each client to make sure everyone felt welcome.
Grey Nun Associates are lay women and men who follow the spirit and example of St. Marguerite. Sister Alma was the coordinator of the Associates in Jackson Heights as well as a member of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart congregational board for the Associates. Her creative ideas and wisdom enabled the Associate program to continue and to grow.
Sister Alma Regina was kind, generous, compassionate, self-sacrificing, and always attentive to the needs of others. In her quiet, gentle way, she exemplified St. Marguerite’s words, “Everyone must know we never refuse to serve.”
Just as the disciples in the Gospel had to learn to “Let the little children come to Jesus,” we, too, are always searching and learning. And in rare instances we meet an extraordinary teacher, like Sister Alma, who will lead us along the way.
In the Book of Daniel, we read, “Those who teach shall shine as the stars.” Sister Alma’s goodness will shine as a brilliant star forever. In her unassuming, yet extraordinary way, Sister Alma taught us an abundance of lessons. As we rejoice and thank God for her exemplary life, let us think for a moment, “What did Sister Alma Regina teach me? How has the lesson of her life influenced me?”
Rest in the arms of your heavenly teacher, dear Alma. Rest in peace! and, thank you!
Sister Alma Regina Murtha, GNSH, 76, died in St. Joseph Manor, Meadowbrook, PA on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 in the 56th year of her religious life. Mary Leddy Murtha was born in New York, NY on June 22, 1937 to Matthew and Ethel (Black) Murtha. She graduated from Dominican Academy in 1955 and entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in 1957 after attending Good Counsel College in White Plains, NY for two years. She later received a BA in English from D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY.
A lifelong primary school teacher, Sister Alma Regina influenced the lives of countless young people for 50 years. She demonstrated her love of the “little ones” in Lowell, MA; Buffalo, Eden and Bedford Stuyvesant, NY and Philadelphia, PA between 1960 and 1974. For the next thirty-five years she imparted knowledge of God’s love for them to children at Blessed Sacrament School, Jackson Heights, NY, the elementary school she once attended. Prior to her retirement to the Grey Nun Motherhouse, Yardley, PA in 2011, she was a Teachers’ Assistant and Religion Coordinator at St. Joan of Arc School in Jackson Heights, NY for two additional years. Shortly after her arrival at the Motherhouse, she embarked on a courageous struggle with the cancer that finally claimed her life.
Predeceased by her parents, she is survived by her brother, Joseph Murtha and nieces and nephews, in addition to her religious congregation. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, 1750 Quarry Road, Yardley, PA, 19067-3998 and will be appreciated. A wake service is scheduled at the Motherhouse at 7 PM on March 7th. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered on March 8th at 10:30 AM in the Sacred Heart Chapel of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in Yardley, PA with interment to follow in Resurrection Cemetery. Funeral arrangements by Beck/Givnish, Inc.