Written on: August 24, 2021
Reflection on the life of Sister Constance Marie Welsh, GNSH by Eileen White, GNSH
Funeral Mass August 28, 2021 — Redeemer Chapel, Meadowbrook, PA
In the gospel she chose for her funeral Mass, the angel tells Mary Magdalene and the women:
Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.
He has risen as He said. Resurrexit sicut dixit. Resucito! Alleluia!
When Connie was in the hospital and had just decided to go on hospice, I asked her if she was afraid. She put up her two hands in fighter fists and said, “No, I’m not”. Yet she had known fear, and also sorrow, and anguish, but also courage and faith. Like Mary Magdalene and the women, she was always seeking Jesus. And like them, she came to believe deeply in resurrection.
Born in 1936 to James Joseph and Mary Kathleen O’Connell Welsh, she was one of 9: Jim, Bill, Tom, Michael, Terry, Joyce, Celeste, and one who died as an infant, Deirdre. She was a great baseball player until they wouldn’t let her play anymore because she was a girl. The beginning of her feminist character. From her grandfather at Melrose, she learned to love earth and all things that grow.
She graduated from St. Hubert’s and entered the Grey Nuns that same year — one of a great crowd of postulants, some of whom are here today. She met Betty Bagen that year and they became friends for life.
Connie taught 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6, 7th, and 8th grade in the course of her teaching career. She was missioned to Blessed Sacrament, St. Joan’s and St. Leo’s in Queens, New York – she who loved green meadows and nature. I heard that she and other Grey Nuns at St. Leo’s used to go up to the roof. Connie called it “Tar Beach”. Some who taught with her at Blessed Sacrament remembered how much fun she was and how they all helped each other. Connie was also missioned to St Norbert’s in Paoli, to St. Ann’s at Melrose, and to Grey Nun Academy in Yardley. As a teacher of junior high math and science, she was feared as well as loved. One Grey Nun Academy alumna remembered on Facebook that she had a great aim with a blackboard eraser! Ever an adventurous soul, she spent a summer at Christian Appalachian Project with teenagers in Kentucky. She also spent several years in Lima, Peru, first to help out when several Greys got hepatitis and then returning to do parish ministry. Several Peruvian friends whom I talked to yesterday told me how they loved her spunk and her broken Spanish and her enthusiasm for life.
When Connie left teaching, she asked to become groundskeeper and gardener at the Motherhouse. She supplemented what she knew already with an internship at Moon Nursery and some study at an arboretum. Connie often expressed her opinion that those elected to power were usually mentally unstable, but she knew how to persuade her friends in leadership to come around to her way of thinking. Rita remembered that Connie got her to buy a new tractor and okayed buying 1000 black walnut tree seeds which Connie thought would eventually bring in lots of money. Well, there are about 30 beautiful black walnut trees on our former property, giving testimony to Connie’s hard work and innovative thinking.
I met Connie in the early 70s before our community began to provide policy for intervention and support for Sisters addicted to alcohol. I was an enabler then and only later a more helpful friend. I imagine that it was in those years that Connie was haunted by The Hound of Heaven.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, . . . .
Connie was torn between seeking God and fearing what God would require of her. For someone addicted to alcohol, the biggest fear is to lose the drink they crave. Connie thought she would have to give up everything if she let God – Francis Thompson’s hound of heaven — catch up with her. Yet she knew deep down how much God loved her and wanted only to take away what was killing her. Thankfully, she sought the help she desperately needed and the community came through for her. She went into treatment and acknowledged her addiction. Although she rejected AA meetings, she got counselling and for most of her life maintained sobriety — which she counted as a resurrection to new life. She and Ellie used to compare notes when they met to measure their years of sobriety.
Friends and acquaintances of Connie frequently described her as unique and that she was. She was never a very good traditional student, but she read voraciously and her love for learning was monumental. She had a talent for drawing and loved to sketch the barn, the house, the trees. Following the lessons from her grandfather, she collaborated with God in nature. Her garden on the hill and later in the courtyard grew beans and tomatoes and squash. She had a way of getting others, reluctantly or enthusiastically, to collaborate on the garden project. In an article about her in a vocation magazine in 2017, she said:
“There are many places on Earth where you can feel the presence of God. In a garden, God is present in the soil, in the flowers, in the weeds, even in the slugs and the moles. A garden is as holy as a chapel!”
Garden and chapel were her two loves. Connie lived the liturgical seasons and tried to ensure that we did the same. At the Motherhouse, she organized holy week and the Easter vigil, sometimes without much enthusiasm from those who found her style challenging.
When the Motherhouse chapel and our 90 acres disappeared from her life, she mourned for a long, long time. But eventually she grew tomatoes and marigolds on her balcony and she loved the garden outside Lafayette. She provided materials for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter for the community, sometimes surprising the finance office with the bills!
Connie had a wonderful sense of humor, quick and clever, and she made lots of Grey Nuns laugh just at the right moment. D’Youville summers included Nancy Drigan and Connie playing Chet & Dave and a fake graduation with Pomp and Circumstance and all the trimmings that made Sister Grace of the Sacred Heart laugh ’til her sides ached. Connie was not afraid to play the fool – to be the hobo for Halloween, to dance, to sing, to carry on.
Connie could infuriate as easily as she could delight. Her pro-Trump position was notoriously maddening, especially given the fact that she was a total feminist and a liberation theology proponent. She had partners in crime who never minded breaking a few rules here and there or spending money that wasn’t authorized, especially if they were convinced it was for a good cause. On the other hand, she was very generous and thoughtful. She tried to gather us and make community as best she knew how. And she had the humility to know when she really needed help. Some of us are jealous of her for that.
Connie loved her family. Her sister Joyce, her sister-in-law Jean, and her brother Terry shared many adventures and much love. She spoke of her sister, Celeste. Connie’s nephews and nieces and cousins enriched and enlarged her world and gave her much happiness.
The Hound of Heaven and Psalm 139 have much in common about how impossible it is to hide from God, even when one imagines, in error, that God will demand too much. Thompson and the psalmist both end, however, with a realization of the enormity of God’s love. Perhaps these last lines of The Hound of Heaven relate to Connie’s experience of that love and of her surrender to that love many times in her life and in her last days. God says to Connie:
All which thy child’s mistake
fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise clasp My Hand, and come!
Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Connie chose these words from St. Paul to the Romans because she believed in them with all her heart.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his,
we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Do not be afraid. Resurrexit sicut dixit!
Go now in peace, Connie.
Funeral Arrangements for August 28, 2021:
Viewing: 10:00 a.m.
Funeral Liturgy: 10:30 a.m. Redeemer Sisters’ Chapel
Interment following the Mass
Sister Constance (Connie) Marie Welsh, GNSH, 84, died August 21, 2021 at St. Joseph’s Manor in the 67th year of her religious life. Constance was born in Philadelphia, PA October 3, 1936 to James and Mary (O’Connell) Welsh. In addition to her religious family she is survived by her sister Celeste Gross, sister-in-law Jean Welsh, and nieces and nephews.
She attended St. Catherine of Siena and Holy Angels elementary schools in Philadelphia, graduating from St. Hubert’s High School in 1954. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY, and studied in 1978-79 at Catholic University, Washington, DC.
Sister entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart on September 8, 1954, and made her final profession of vows on August 24,1960. She taught in parochial schools in New York, Jackson Heights (St. Joan of Arc 1957-59), Corona (St. Leo 1962-64), and Blessed Sacrament (1964-69), and in Lowell, MA (Immaculate Conception 1959-60), Paoli, PA (St. Norbert 1960-62), Melrose Park, PA (St. Ann’s Hall 1969-72) and Yardley, PA (GNA 1972-78, 79-81). Sister also taught at St. Norbert parish 1981-1985 in Lima, Peru, South America.
After years in the field of elementary education Sister Connie became Groundskeeper at the Motherhouse in Yardley; a position in which she found much satisfaction, and in which she continued for 14 years until her retirement in 2001. She enjoyed immersing herself in the liturgical intricacies as they developed in the church after Vatican II. Her passions were the challenge of truth, growth, and the love of the Word of God. Sister leaves a legacy of a free spirit who brought laughter, provoked thought, and enjoyed life.
A viewing will be held at 10:00 a.m. on August 28, 2021 in the Redeemer Sisters Chapel 521 Moredon Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006; funeral Mass will follow at 10:30 a.m. Burial in Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem, PA.
Donations in her memory will be gratefully received by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart. Donations 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.
Services arranged by Beck-Givnish Funeral Homes, Inc.