Irish nephews surprise Bensalem nun on her 100th birthday

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Matt Schickling / Times photo – Sister Maureen Patricia Ryan laughs with her nephew Kevin Roberts during her 100th birthday celebration. 

Sister Maureen Patricia Ryan received an unexpected present for her 100th birthday: Her three nephews traveled from Ireland to celebrate with her.

Kevin, Noel and Ted Roberts flew into Philadelphia Wednesday night so they could be there for the celebration, held in the parlor room at Saint Katharine Shrine and Mission Center, where many of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament live in the motherhouse.

The three brothers traveled from counties Limerick, Clare and Galway, bringing along presents, photos of family members and letters and cards from relations back home.

“I haven’t seen her in about 30 years,” Kevin said, though Noel had visited as recently as last year. “Our mother, her sister, died five years ago. You just get very sentimental after those things.

“When her hundredth birthday was coming up, we said that’s just something we couldn’t miss. We had to be here for her.”

Ryan herself traveled to America from County Tipperary in the 1930s, and soon after joined the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

According to the brothers, turning 100 in Ireland is usually recognized with a letter from the president of Ireland, though the cards from back home did not include one from President Michael Higgins.

“She gave up her Irish citizenship in the 1960s, so because of that we couldn’t get it for her,” Kevin said. They did, however, bring along a proclamation recognizing Ryan from Ireland.

The celebration included a meal at the motherhouse in Ryan’s honor, surrounded by all her fellow Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and of course a 100th birthday cake.

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Matt Schickling / Times photo – State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson talks with Ryan after giving her a commendation from the state legislature. 

State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson and State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo were also there to present Ryan with commendations from the state legislature. Bensalem Mayor Joe DiGirolamo also sent one from the township in his absence.

“When you think about the years that this woman dedicated to children and to education and some underserved communities, she dedicated her entire life to helping people through this order,” Tomlinson said. “One hundred years is a wonderful landmark, but it just brings back to me the community service she gave.”

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament was founded in 1891 by Saint Katharine Drexel with the expressed mission of bringing prayer and service works to African-Americans and Native Americans.

“She’s dedicated her whole life to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and their mission of helping people around the country,” DiGirolamo said. “I’m very honored to be here.”

The shrine and mission center have been in Bensalem for decades, with some buildings dating to the 1930s. The entombed remains of Saint Katharine Drexel are held in a crypt beneath the chapel.

But this could be the last year the property belongs to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. In May, it was announced that the property will be sold and the 100 or so sisters who live in the motherhouse will relocate. The remains of Saint Katharine Drexel are also expected to be moved to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

The property is still yet to be sold, but many Bensalem residents, including Tomlinson, hope that the land will continue to be part of the fabric of the community.

“I grew up a block away. We used to run around these grounds as little kids,” Tomlinson said. “It’s always been such a wonderful sanctuary. It would be sad for someone who spent my entire life here to watch this go.” ••

 

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