Sister Frances Willam Avery, GNSH

Written on: January 15, 2023

Funeral Reflection – January 21, 2023 by Eileen White, GNSH

Sister Frances William Avery, Mary Jane Avery, was born in 1928. Her parents, William and Frances, raised a wonderful family of eight – four girls and four boys – Frances, Joan, Jean, and Mary Jane; William, Edward, James, and Joseph. Her sister, Jean, is here with us this morning, as are Sister’s many nephews and nieces, representing all the Avery family.

Mary grew up in Philadelphia. From St. Joachim’s and St. Martin of Tours parish, she went to Little Flower High School. An excellent student, she was also a gifted musician, who served as first violinist in the Little Flower Orchestra. She continued in the alumnae orchestra for several years. It was in high school that she met the Grey Nuns, but she didn’t ask to enter the Grey Nuns right away. She worked for a few years in offices at Sears and IBM.

She entered the Grey Nuns at age 21, older and perhaps wiser than some of those who entered right from high school. But Mary Jane stayed, honored her parents by taking their names, and made final profession of vows in 1955 with Sisters R. Patricia Smith; Christina Mary deYcaza; Mary Kathleen Duggan;  Helen Martin, Virginia Carley, and Sally White. All but Sally are deceased, but Frances and Sister Sally remained friends, and, in fact, shared an apartment when they moved to Lafayette and spoke on the phone every night, after Sr. Sally moved to personal care and then skilled care.

Sister Frances told an interviewer from the Glenside News in 1980 that she came to the Grey Nuns because she wanted to be a teacher. Until her retirement, she fulfilled that dream. In her earliest Grey Nun years, she taught 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. Her assignments took her to Holy Angels in Buffalo, St. Joan’s and Blessed Sacrament Schools in Jackson Heights, NY, and Mother of Divine Providence School in King of Prussia. Sisters who were assigned with her at different times, remembered that she was very strict and that she only had to give a look to get compliance from her students. Several Sisters spoke of being mentored by Sister in the art of maintaining discipline. Paul, a former student, (who would have had Sister Frances William at least 50 years ago) wrote on our website at the time of Sister’s 70th jubilee:

“God bless you Sr. Frances William . . . Sister was my 7th grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights. She influenced me in so many ways, including my choice of teaching as a career. I’m forever grateful for my years at Blessed Sacrament.”  

The congregation’s leadership recognized her talents, and sent her as principal to Immaculate Conception School in Lowell, Massachusetts. In the 10 years that she led the school, she also managed to obtain her master’s degree in education at Lowell State College. She was dearly loved by children and families in Lowell, and it broke her heart when the community had to withdraw from that school in 1978.

From Lowell, she returned to Philadelphia and became principal of Melrose grade school. Father Charlie Noone met her there and he has already had some remarks about her loving service to children, faculty, and families at Melrose.

Wherever Sister Frances was assigned, she also found a way to remain lovingly connected to her sisters and brothers and their families. It was a great blessing to them, and to Sister, that she remained in the Philadelphia area for the next 38 years of her religious life. Visits to her family were an essential part of her life. She phoned her sister, Joan’s daughter, Fran, for every kind of advice, since, as she told me, Fran knew just about everything. Jeannie’s husband, Brian, was another of her heroes, who went out of his way to help her time and time again. When Sister gave up driving, her family made it possible, nonetheless, for her to stay with them on many weekends. How she loved and was loved, especially by Joanie, who called her “Darling”

Like so many of us for whom some event turned our lives upside down, Sister Frances William initially felt lost when we closed Melrose. At 57, she hardly knew what to do next. The congregation at that point in history invited each Sister to prayerfully discern what God was calling her to do. No longer did a superior simply tell you where to go. So, Sister Frances, in typical Mary Jane Avery style, listened to leads and checked the want ads. In a short time, God’s provident care led her to the Good Shepherd Sisters’ ministry — Counseling or Remediation Association, CORA, which was looking for tutors to help students in math and reading. Sister Frances was assigned to a trailer connected to St. Christopher’s School where she became known as “the lady in the trailer” or “the trailer nun.”And oh, how fortunate were those students sent to the trailer for remedial help!  Sister wrote in her jubilee year reflection,

 “…my twenty-two years at CORA services . . . were satisfying beyond measure (They) presented me with the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of children. The teachers as well as the parents were happy to see the progress made by their students and children.” 

In the year of her golden jubilee, Sister Frances wrote to our congregational Secretary asking her NOT to send in her name to the archdiocese with the jubilarians. She wrote, “There are others waiting to replace people and I wouldn’t want to give up my position for my “old age”!  She was afraid if they knew how old she was, she might lose her job! Well, she held on to that position – a ministry she so loved – until she finally retired at our Motherhouse. Not too many years later, she moved to Lafayette with about forty of our Sisters – another major letting go in all our lives.

At Lafayette, Sister Frances William and Sister Martha became friends, and shared dinner with Sister Patsy and Sister Jean Liston. Although Sister Frances wanted to be completely independent, she depended on Sister Martha who walked her down to dinner every night and visited her every evening when she moved to Personal Care. Frances counted on and completely trusted Martha’s advice, which she sometimes sought in the middle of the night.

So many memories! We remember Sister Mary, or Sister Frances William’s, deep voice, her wonderful laugh, her dry sense of humor, and the way she rolled her eyes to signal that whatever was happening was a little crazy or not at all to her liking. We remember the courageous way she faced disappointments, losses, and illness. We remember (and were sometimes envious of) her skills for organization, and her amazing memory for knowing the size, color and purpose of every medication. We remember how she loved her family and treasured every phone call, every visit, and every weekend spent with them. Her two families – family of origin and religious community — shall continue to remember and the journey of life she shared with us. With her, we are consoled with Jesus’ words to his apostles and to us:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am, there you also may be.” 

Sister Frances, Aunt Mary, Mary Jane, Sister Mary– thank you for the life you shared with us. Go now in peace, faithful friend of God, as you take our love into paradise.


Sister Frances William Avery (Mary Jane), GNSH, 94, died Thursday, January 12, 2023 in the 74th year of her religious life. As a lifelong educator, for 56 years she touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families in Buffalo and Jackson Heights, NY; Lowell, MA; and King of Prussia and Philadelphia, PA.

From 1968-78 Sister was the Principal of Immaculate Conception School in Lowell, MA. In Pennsylvania she taught at Mother of Divine Providence, King of Prussia (1964-66) and was Principal at Melrose Academy, Philadelphia (1978-85). From 1986 – 2008 Sister was a member of the teaching staff of CORA Services, aiding students in mastering academic challenges they faced. Sister retired to the Motherhouse in Yardley, PA in 2008 and moved to Holy Redeemer Lafayette in October 2015.

One of eight children born to William and Frances (Kerrigan) Avery, in Philadelphia, Mary Jane Avery entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in 1949.

Sister earned a BS in Education from D’Youville College. Buffalo, NY and received an MS in Education from Lowell State College, Lowell, MA.

Sister is predeceased by her parents, brothers William, Joseph, James and Edward, and sisters Joan Conrey and Frances De Fillipis. Sister is survived by her sister, Jean Del Fera and many nieces and nephews.

Visitation at 9:00 a.m., sharing of memories at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 21st in the Redeemer Sisters’ Chapel 521 Moredon Rd, Huntingdon Valley, PA; funeral Mass will follow at 10:00 am. Burial in Lakeview Cemetery, 1300 Route 130, N. Cinnaminson, NJ. Funeral arrangements by Beck-Givnish, Levittown, PA.


3 thoughts on “Sister Frances Willam Avery, GNSH

  1. Kathleen Vezina (Lucas) says:

    I was a student of Sister Frances William in the 7th grade at Blessed Sacrament School in Jackson Heights. Sister saw I was having difficulty with Math and suggested I come in each morning before class and she would review with me anything I did not understand from the previous days lesson. The confidence I gained from this was immeasurable in addition to my highest marks in Math. Sister was a wonderful teacher who cared deeply for the academic and personal success of all her students. May she rest in peace.

  2. Paul Cuttica says:

    Sr Frances William was my 7 th grade teacher at Blessed Sacrament, Jackson Heights. She was a wonderful teacher and an inspiration. She and Sr Patricia Marie Gallagher are the reason I became a teacher, retiring after 46 years in the classroom. Sr and I exchanged Christmas cards and notes each year. She will be missed by many. May she rest in peace.

  3. Robert Corrigan says:

    Sister Frances Willam, my 7th Grade teacher, was one of my favorites at St. Joan of Arc School in Jackson Heights, NY during the 1957-58 school year. I had the good fortune to be able to visit with her in retirement several years ago at the Motherhouse, and we had a wonderful day together. She touched many lives during her years as a Grey Nun, and will now receive her reward in heaven. Thank you and God bless you, Sister Frances! Robert Corrigan, Jackson Heights, NY

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