Sr. Kathleen (Anna) McCarthy
1920 – 2011
Kathleen McCarthy was born on December 24, 1920, at Menlough, County Galway, Ireland. One of six children, Kathleen became very close to her brothers, sister, nieces and nephews after the death of her parents. Her family came regularly to visit her in France and was present for most of her big community celebrations.
From her personal journal, we learn Kathleen’s own story of her vocation. “When I was a little girl, I already wanted to be a religious. At 15, I became acquainted with the Marianites through an American Marianite cousin who had come to Ireland on vacation. I prayed a lot to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Therese. By my faith acquired in my strong Catholic family, I was challenged by two Bible passages: Hebrews 11:8 where Abraham obeys God’s call and leaves for a country that he does not know; and Isaiah 6:8 where God asks, “Whom shall I send?” That’s when I said, “Here I am; send me.” When I was 17 years old, I arrived in France, knowing neither a word of French nor a single person. My life continued that way – I left for India, for Haiti, for Paris – all unknown to me. But God put everywhere on my route people who helped me to grow in faith. I never felt like a stranger anywhere. I give thanks to the Lord because he has done marvels for me all along the way.”
Kathleen entered the Marianite postulancy at Précigné on October 3, 1938, where she met up with twenty other postulants: seven French, four Americans, one British, and eight Irish. On May 30, 1939, she received the habit and the name Sr. Mary of Saint Anna. She was thrilled that her brother, Patrick, came to the ceremony in the name of her whole family.
Following two years of formation, Anna made temporary vows on June 14, 1940, the very day that the Germans invaded France. The next day she left Précigné for the Marianite clinic in Le Mans where she helped care for the sick and also studied nursing until 1946. During this period of World War II, Sister Anna made perpetual profession on June 14, 1943, and took the vow of foreign missions to which she had so long aspired.
On December 17, 1946, Sister and another Marianite left France for India with five priests and two brothers of Holy Cross. They departed Marseille on an old military boat and, after many hardships, arrived at their mission on February 3, 1947, the year that India obtained its independence from Great Britain. It was in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, that Anna ministered for fifteen years. When the new missionaries arrived, an old priest counselled them, “Observe the way the people live, their customs, their mentality, etc. You will become like them. If not, your mission will be in vain.” Anna had two new languages to learn – Hindi and Bengali.
During her first five years, from 1947 to 1952, Anna worked at the dispensary and visited the sick in their homes. At the same time, she prepared herself to work in the leprosarium in Comilla. In 1952, the Marianites opened a leprosarium of 36 beds at Jalchatra in the district of Mymensingh and Anna remained there for nine years, taking care of the sick, comforting them, accompanying the dying, and trying to be for them a witness of the love of Christ.
In December 1961, Sister Anna left Pakistan for Haiti, a region very different from where she had been – Catholic but superstitious (Voodoo) and another language to learn – Creole. For three years in Cap-Haitian, she did the same work as in Pakistan. From 1964 to 1968, she shared community life and work in the dispensary of Pilate with the Sisters of Holy Cross of Canada. In 1968 she went back to Cap-Haitian and with the help of the French, American, and Canadian embassies, the community developed a medical complex with a modern dispensary, and a sophisticated laboratory better adapted to the needs of the people. In town, Anna invested herself in the work of the blood bank which the doctors asked for. Outside of work, she directed her attention to the poor and the sick who were not able to get to Cap Haitian for treatment. She participated in the installation of a dispensary in the brush, at Magagnosse, and she went there every Saturday. Beginning in 1985, she took care of those with AIDS which was just beginning its ravages in Haiti. For all she did, many grateful witnesses rendered thanks to Anna, for her availability, her generosity to the poorest. Her participation in the Legion of Mary and in parish base communities marked the different teams with whom she shared faith and prayer.
Sister spent thirty-one years in Haiti, with an occasional trip to France to learn the latest lab techniques, to rest and to visit her family in Ireland. In February 1992, Anna came back to France where she ministered for ten years with Catholic Charities. She provided support to new immigrants who were arriving from various parts of the world and seeking asylum in Paris. Her knowledge of several languages enabled Anna to share their difficulties and their sufferings. She felt most at ease when it was a question of sharing their faith and their beliefs, whether they were Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu. For Sister Anna the missionary world continued to enfold her.
Called back to the motherhouse in 2002, Anna rendered service in welcoming groups who came to the Solitude for visits, for the international session, and for retreats. After suffering for several years, Sister’s physical condition rendered her totally dependent on others. In 2010, Anna was sent to the nursing home of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, where the staff was better equipped to help her. There she prayed much to our Father Founder and to Mother Mary of the Seven Dolors who had made her novitiate and pronounced her vows there. Sister weakened little by little and lived in isolation since she could no longer express herself in words. Only her eyes expressed her needs. The sisters from the Solitude, especially her friend, Sr. Marie Renee Moreau, visited her and encouraged her in her last moments. On November 15, 2011, Sister Anna died in peace and came back to the Solitude where her sisters were able to pray for her and to see that her face had found once more its look of peace; she seemed to be sleeping. Her funeral Mass took place in the Solitude chapel on November 17, 2011. Her body reposes in the conventual cemetery of Holy Cross in Le Mans.
May the Lord grant Sister Anna his peace and his joy.