Nine years into her life as a centenarian, Sister Constance Murphy took her last breath at peace, though a long way from her Baltimore roots.
An acclaimed author, the former Canadian headmistress and life-long student would have been 110 years old on Feb. 2, 2014. She was the longest surviving nun of the Toronto, Ont.-based St. John the Divine convent.
And while she spent her last years visiting homes for the elderly, using every bit of the masters in gerontology she earned at age 73 from the University of Michigan, the well-respected nun remained humble and true until the end, according to friends and family.
“Savera, my wife, and I had visited Sister Constance last Saturday on the advice of the sisters,” said nephew Carlo Dade in an email sent out to family members on Aug. 5. “She had been bed ridden for the past two years and in and out of consciousness.”
Before she took to her bed, his email said, “She was sitting up in a chair next to the bed and was able to carry on an extended conversation and attend prayer services with the sisters.”
Born in Baltimore in 1904, the University of Pennsylvania graduate made an art of teaching and guiding others.
She was a young woman when a stay in Europe exposed her to a theatrical performance detailing the crucifixion of Christ. This would further solidify her eventual calling. She joined the St. John the Divine convent.
According to longtime friend, Sister Elizabeth Ann Eckert, Sister Constance’s work with girls will impact many generations to come.
“She was a teacher at the Qu'Appelle Diocesan School in Regina, a province of Saskatchewan, and then she became head mistress,” she said. “She also worked with the elderly at homes for the aged at a number of different facilities that the sister’s ran. She worked both in them and lead them as administrator.”
Eckert said she will forever remember Sister Constance’s ability to “learn all about something and then take complete responsibility.”
Though Sister Constance achieved significant success in several endeavors, Eckert said she stayed humble and never lost the ability to make even strangers feel welcome.
“My first meeting with her that I remember was in a small sharing circle and she told me that her middle name was ‘Elizabeth,’” said Eckert, of a 1987 encounter. “It gave us that bond of a shared name and it was lovely for her, trying to find something like that, to reach out to a new member of a community. You can feel kind of awkward when you’re new and she was an older sister that reached out to me.”
And her touch extended well past the convent without regard to age.
“At 100, she was still going out and visiting the old,” said Eckert. “We insisted that someone drive her and that she not take the subway and bus anymore, but she was still ministering to other people.”
For her service, when she turned 105, dignitaries from both Canada and the United States recognized her.
“President Obama and Prime Minister Harper both sent official congratulations for her 105th birthday,” said Dade. “I told the embassy about her and the U.S. ambassador paid her a visit and he said repeatedly that meeting her was one of the highlights of his tour in Canada.”
The ambassador left the nun a passport, according to Dade, which she insisted on using in her own “never take no for an answer” way. She was known for that, her fellow sister nuns said.
Sister Constance will continue to give back, even in death.
“According to her wishes Sister Constance is donating her brain to Johns Hopkins,” said Dade. “She has been part of a study on aging, but her body will be kept in Canada.”