Courtesy of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto.
Obit of the Day: Nun Better
Sister Constance Elizabeth Murphy was in her late twenties when she decided to dedicate her life to God.
When she approached the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, who were based in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, they would not admit her - because she was Black. Segregation had a far reach.
So she travelled north to Toronto and joined the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, an Anglican order. After three years of training, Sister Constance became a nun in 1936 - when Teddy’s cousin Franklin was sitting in the White House.
But Sister Constance was no quiet, meditative presence. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (Class of 1928, when few women, let alone Black women earned Ivy League degrees), she would start as a teacher before transitioning into a caregiver for senior citizens, which became her life’s calling.
She earned a Master’s degree in adult education, focusing on gerontology, from the University of Michigan in 1977, at the age of 73. She established the Canadian Institute of Religion and Gerontology in 1975. In 1981 and 1991 she was invited to the White House Conference on Aging. She was also instrumental in creating non-profit housing for seniors in Toronto called St. Hilda’s Towers.
Active well into her eleventh decade, Sister Constance Murphy rode her trademark bicycle everywhere - until her sisters had to take it from her, when she was 100. When she turned 105, President Barack Obama sent her a letter recognizing her as the oldest American living in Canada.
Sister Constance Murphy died on August 2, 2013 at the age of 109*.
Random note: Her grandfather, John H. Murphy, who served in the Civil War in the U.S. Colored Infantry, founded the Baltimore Afro-American in 1891. The paper, commonly called The Afro, is the oldest continually published, family-owned African American newspaper in the United States.
* As old as 109 is, Sister Constance is not the oldest living nun. Sister Marie-Josephine Gaudette turned 111 in March 2013. She lives in Italy.
H/T: Obit of the Day is the most popular obituary site on Tumblr.
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