Written on: April 7, 2016
Looking back on her life as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, Sister Eileen Murray’s years as Group Mother at St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, New York shine in her memory as some of the most meaningful of her ministry.
A native of Ogdensburg, NewYork, she entered the Grey Nun congregation in September of 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. Women had to do the work of men who were at war and religious congregations were no exception.
“I drove a tractor, painted and did repairs because we didn’t have a handy man,” she remembers.
She spent her first few years in ministry teaching elementary school. Then, from 1945 until 1960, she was missioned to St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, New York, caring for children who were orphaned or whose parents could not care for them. “They were marvelous, rewarding years,” she says.
For many of the children, Sister Eileen (Sister Paul Francis) was the only mother they ever knew. Ben Bruso, who lived in the Home from the age of 15 months until the age of 12, recalls her comforting presence in the boys’ dormitory as they slept.
“In order to best protect the boys in her charge and to ensure that she was available in case something happened, she arranged to have a corner of our dormitory blocked off with sheets and she had her bed, a desk, a trunk and a lamp set up inside of her ‘bedroom’. I can remember many a night when one of the boys would need help and she was there, calmly and lovingly.”
Her loving presence comforted to him when, at age 9, he had his tonsils removed. He remembers struggling as an ether mask was placed over his face until he heard Sister Eileen’s voice “calmly telling me that it was OK.” Later in the night he awoke to find Sister Eileen sitting by his bedside, reading her prayer book. “She got me some ice cream and I fell asleep peacefully, knowing that she would take care of me.”
“I remember the ways Sister Eileen let me know that I was special to her and that I had someone who cared for me, besides God,” he recalls. “She made sure that I was one of the boys who rode up on the elevator with her when we were going to bed. I would stand in front of her and she would quietly tug on my ear a couple of times and I knew that was special since she didn’t do that for anyone else.”
When Ben was 12, Sister Eileen arranged for his adoption. The Brusos welcomed Ben into their home and into their hearts and his days as an orphan were past. As part of his adaptation to his new life, visiting the orphanage was discouraged and his life path and Sister Eileen’s diverged.
In 1960, St. Joseph’s Home closed. Sister Eileen’s ministry path took a different direction and she was assigned to teach Science at Christ the King School and at St. Jude the Apostle School in Atlanta, a city she calls “my second home.”
In 1986, Sister Eileen began a ministry to the elderly at St. Jude parish. With great enthusiasm, she planned activities, visited those in nursing homes and hospitals and arranged for priests to celebrate Mass in nursing homes. She was honored with the Woman of the year Award at the Women’s Guild Dinner in Atlanta in 1991 for her outstanding work.
Sister Eileen retired in 2010 and now resides at Holy Redeemer D’Youville Manor.
After high school, Bruso joined the Army and served for almost 25 years. During his military career, he worked in counterintelligence and as an interpreter. After his retirement from the Army in 1988, he continued working as a civilian in counterintelligence and security.
Although life had separated them, Sister Eileen and Ben Bruso remained in each other’s hearts, thoughts and prayers. In 1986, he called the Yardley Motherhouse in search of Sister Eileen. She contacted him and they met in Ogdensburg, where their lives intertwined so many years ago. “We drove to the home I moved to when I was adopted. The family who bought the place after my adopted Father died allowed us to come inside. It brought back memories for both of us.”
They kept in touch over the years and every Mother’s Day, Sister Eileen receives a floral bouquet from her special charge.
“The Grey Nuns loved me and cared for me and it is because of them that I bear no malice toward anyone for my 12 years in the orphanage,” he says. “I’ve had a good and successful life and I know that who and what I am today is directly due to the love and care I received from the Grey Nuns–especially from Sister Eileen.”
As Sister Eileen looks back over her many years of religious life, she is, she says, filled with gratitude.
“I received so many gifts in the people, the places, the opportunity—which few women religious have—to mother children. They say the Lord works through dull instruments. I agree—He used me in so many ways to touch so many people.”
Sister Eileen Murray is celebrating her 75th Jubilee as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart in 2016. You can read more about her here.